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Age of surrealism. 







Jacob's Night 
Clowns and Angels 
Ernest Psichari 
De Villon a Peguy 
La Purete dans VArt 
The Clown's Grail 


Matines et Vers 
From Chartered Land 


Sleep of the Pigeon 
Sun Suicide 


Yvor Winters 
In Defense of Reason 

Allen Tate 
On the Limits of Poetry: 
Selected Essays: 1928-1948 

Wallace Fowlie 
Age of Surrealism 

George Arms & Joseph M. Kuntz 
Poetry Explication: 

A Checklist of Interpretation since 1925 of 
British and American Poems Past and Present 









t- 1 










Copyright, 1950, by Wallace Fowlie 

Printed in the United States of America. 

All rights reserved. 

Published simultaneously in the Dominion of Canada by 

Wm. Collins Sons & Co. Canada Ltd. 
Designed by Frank Lieberman 






// LAUTREAMONT: the temperament 28 

III RIMBAUD: the doctrine 45 

IV MALLARME: the myth (Herodiade) 63 
V APOLLINAIRE: the poet 83 

VI ' BRETON: the manifestoes 102 
VII COCTEAU: the theatre 120 
( VIII^LUAKD: the doctrine on love 138 
/■ pt PICASSO: the art 157 

INDEX 199 



The word surrealism, although it has 
only very recently entered the language of dictionaries, al- 
ready designates an historical period. It has one closed and 
confining use to describe the artistic movement centering 
in Paris in the years between the two World Wars, 1919- 
1939. In the 20's and the 30's, surrealism was an organized 
movement, iconoclastic and revolutionary in nature, with 
its leaders and disciples, its manifestoes and publications, 
its exhibitions and even its street brawls. It became inter- 
national during those years to such an extent that fourteen 
countries were represented in its 1938 exhibition. 

But surrealism has another meaning, perhaps even an 
eternal meaning, and a context far wider than that of the 
Andre" Breton group which chronologically succeeded da- 
daism about 1924. This book has been so devised as to 
maintain some manner of just proportion between the 
historical achievement of the literal 20th century surreal- 
ism and its profounder and more philosophical mean- 
ing. Some of the chapters, then, will deal with the self- 
appointed exponents of the school, such as Breton and 
Eluard. Other chapters will be concerned with artists who 
were close to surrealism and yet never actively participated 

12 Age of Surrealism 

in it, such as Apollinaire and Cocteau. Still other artists 
were close to it and yet by the magnitude and universality 
o£ their work, surpassed it: Picasso, for example, who is 
the subject of the next to the last chapter. The opening 
studies are on the immediate often-acknowledged ances- 
tors of surrealism: on Lautreamont, first, whose impor- 
tance and influence have been stressed more steadfastly 
than those of any other writer; and then, on Rimbaud 
and Mallarme, who have enjoyed much more intermittent 
favor with the surrealists than Lautreamont. Of course, 
many other names will be evoked and accredited. The sur- 
realists were always concerned with discovering in the past, 
both near and distant, confirmation for their beliefs and 
practices. They demolish their adversaries as vigorously as 
they extol spirits kindred to their own. Thus Breton claims 
Heraclitus as a surrealist dialectician, and Baudelaire as a 
surrealist moralist. Not only do the surrealists traffic fa- 
miliarly with such obvious names as Sade, Hegel, Marx, 
Freud, Saint-Just, but they also permit entrance into their 
chapel, through a side-door perhaps and a bit grudgingly, 
to Dante, Shakespeare, Gide. 

The term itself of surrealism has already passed through 
the period when it was considered a joke, especially by 
academic circles and even serious critics who refused to 
pay any attention to it. There is still some scoffing at its 
expense, but I believe it comes now from those who are 
totally uninitiated to art. I spent several days at the Inter- 
national Exposition in Paris of 1938, which has been the 
biggest show put on by the surrealists to date, and still 
remember the tittering and even jeering on the part of 
some of the by-standers. And today in the Museum of Mod- 
ern Art in New York and in the Art Institute in Chicago 
one can witness the same attitude of scepticism and marked 
distaste in some of the tourists who turn up there. The 
importance and the seriousness of surrealism equal now 
the seriousness granted the other two contemporary move- 

Origins 13 

merits of communism and neo-thomism. These three "rev- 
olutions" seem to be the most important for an under- 
standing of our modern world, and although they appear 
to us now of almost equal importance, I shouldn't be sur- 
prised that in time surrealism, because of its subtle alli- 
ances with communism and the problem of spirituality, 
will grow into its real stature of the most vital and reno- 
vating movement of modern thought and art. 

If, then, in a contemporary sense, surrealism takes its 
place mightily and pervasively beside communism and 
neo-thomism, in an historical sense the word seems more 
and more to justify a place beside the two words classicism 
and romanticism which for so long have been the cause of 
controversy and definition in Western art. As in the case 
of surrealism, there is a limited meaning of these terms ap- 
plicable to an historical movement of twenty years, when 
manifestoes were published and aesthetic programs enun- 
ciated: classicism, in France, between 1660 and 1680; and 
romanticism, between 1820 and 1840. But it is futile to 
limit these three terms to any specific period of twenty 
years. An organized school of art, like an academy or a 
university, tends to disintegrate into pedantry and sterile 
rules. The great exponent of these modes of art usually 
stands outside the officially titular school, as Lautreamont 
does for surrealism. In fact, the greatest artists have been 
claimed by both the romantics and the classicists, and now, 
since the advent of surrealism, are claimed by the surreal- 
ists. Shakespeare, for example, might be named a classical 
writer because he wrote his tragedies in five acts, but an 
excellent case might be made out for the romanticism of 
his temperament, and I am confident that one day an im- 
portant and much needed work will be written on Hamlet 
as surrealist hero. (When Hamlet's irrationality in the sur- 
realist sense is finally acknowledged, much of the useless 
and tiresome theorizing about his motivations and prob- 
lems will be discarded.) 

14 Age of Surrealism 

I do not intend to review the many definitions of clas- 
sicism and romanticism in order to set forth more ade- 
quately a definition of surrealism. All I shall attempt at 
this point is a statement about what seems to be the most 
basic difference between these two seeming adversaries in 
art form and then indicate the relationship of surrealism 
to one of them. 

The immediate words which come to mind when we 
think of classicism are order, control, condensation, choice, 
synthesis, rules. The classical moment is that one when 
the artist is faithful not only to the rules of his art, estab- 
lished by such an authority as Aristotle, but faithful also 
to the government of his political state. As an artist, he 
is in accord with the moral, political and aesthetic beliefs 
of his society. His personal sentiments are so universally 
shared by his contemporaries that they have ceased being 
personal and have become classical. Classicism then seems 
to be the aesthetic counterpart of political absolutism. 
This fundamental interpretation of the classical spirit is 
offered by such diverse critics, but all equally pontifical in 
tone, as Grierson, Brunetiere and Herbert Read. 

In this light, romanticism, as the opposite of classicism, 
is always in some form or other associated with revolution 
and liberation. The classicist is closely bound up with so- 
ciety and the romanticist is the artist quite alone and apart, 
the individual who is opposed to society and who finds the 
rules for his art in himself. In its highest sense, romantic 
art is created by a single artist, as opposed to classical art 
which is created by a society. The early romantics of the 
19th century were justified to some degree in identifying 
art with romanticism. The way is not very far from a be- 
lief in the autonomy of the artist, in his isolation and 
uniqueness, and a belief in automatism or automatic writ- 
ing which the surrealists extolled as being the legitimate 
method of the creative artist. To seek in oneself, on all the 
various levels of consciousness of oneself, the rules and the 

Origins 15 

form of one's art is the romantic method, but it is also 
the surrealist method. And that is why surrealism appears as 
a reaffirmation of romantic principles. It would not be dif- 
ficult to prove that the romantic or surrealist conception of 
the artist is not limited to the 19th and 20th centuries, but 
is on the contrary an ancient belief, firmly established in 
the cultures which have formed our world. In Plato's Ion, 
Socrates says: "The poet is a light and winged and holy 
thing, and there is no invention in him until he has been 
inspired and is out of his senses, and the mind is no longer 
in him." I don't remember the surrealists ever having used 
this text, but it is one which they might well have ex- 
ploited. From the Old Testament, the words of Samuel 
might also be evoked, especially those he addressed to Saul 
when he said: "I am the seer: go up before me unto the 
high place; for ye shall eat with me today, and tomorrow 
I will let thee go, and will tell thee all that is in thine 
heart." Both the Greek and Hebraic worlds, as well as 
providing our world with almost every idea and belief it 
functions by, formulated surrealist definitions of the artist. 


Surrealism, during the years which sepa- 
rate the two world wars, seemed particularly concerned 
with negation, with r evolution and the demolishin g- of 
ideals and standards. The surrealists were "anti" every- 
thing, but especially anti-literature and anti-poetry. They 
were asking for not much less than a total transformation 
of life. The formula which they combatted the most re- 
lentlessly was that which called literature an expression of 
society. This they considered the goal of bourgeois self- 
satisfied literature, and in denouncing it they were attack- 
ing what we have already defined as a basic aspect of clas- 

However, long before the period of surrealist invective, 
there had been in France a marked shift of preferences, a 

16 Age of Surrealism 

shift away from the kind of literature which was a social 
expression and a sociological document to forms of writing 
in which the artist tries to be sincere with himself, to ex- 
press his thoughts and experiences with maximum degree 
of candor and honesty. It was obvious from the beginning 
of the century on, that preference of younger writers and 
critics, only some of whom were to become literally sur- 
realists, was moving toward a literature of absolute sincer- 
ity. The word realism had taken on offensive connotations. 
The realistic creed had worn itself out tiresomely and 
monotonously.HThe two leading examples in this shift of 
preference are, first, in poetry, the ascendancy of Baude- 
laire, whose art is preferred to the cold impeccably formed 
Parnassian documents and the worn-out exercises of sec- 
ond-rate symbolists; and secondly, in prose, the prefer- 
ence accorded to Stendhal over Balzac. Younger readers in 
France had become irritated with the clearly denned moti- 
vations and the over-simplified psychological formulas of 
Balzac and other realists. Francois Mauriac was able to 
record early in the century, that young men were protest- 
ing against the real: "les jeunes etres se dependent contre 
le reel." The success in 1913, when it was first published, 
of such a novel as Le Grand Meaulnes by Alain-Fournier 
was proof of the eagerness with which the French public 
accepted a work dealing with the world of dreams and the 
strange attraction of irrationality. The first part of Proust's 
novel Du Cote de chez Swann was published in 1913, but 
it wasn't read until after the war. 

The need for sincerity in literary expression, felt 
strongly in France during the first twenty years of the cen- 
tury, is really the belief that the conscious states of man's 
being are not sufficient to explain him to himself and to 
others. His subconscious contains a larger and especially a 
more authentic or accurate part of his being. It was found 
that our conscious speech and our daily actions are usually 
in contradiction with our true selves and our deeper de- 

Origins 17 

sires. The neat patterns of human behavior, set forth by 
the realists, and which our lives seem to follow, were found 
to be patterns formed by social forces rather than by our 
desires or temperaments or inner psychological selves. This 
discovery or conviction that we are more sincerely revealed 
in our dreams and in our purely instinctive actions than 
in our daily exterior habits of behavior (tea-drinking or 
cocktailing, etc.) is of course basic to surrealism. It is ad- 
mirably summarized in a sentence of Andre Gide's auto- 
biography, Si le grain ne meurt, when he speaks of the dif- 
ficulty of our knowing the real motivation of any of our 
actions: "le motif secret de nos actes nous echappe." 

Reality, then, as demonstrated by the realists and as seen 
by man's own limited conscious self, entered upon a pe- 
riod of disfavor when it was considered imperfect, transi- 
tory, impure. And many of the new writers are character- 
ized by their refusal of reality. Refusal and denial, in terms 
of reality, become currently used words. This is negative, 
a movement of anti-realism, but contains, as most nega- 
tions do, an overwhelming positive aspiration. A new kind 
of absolute is in sight, which, although it contains a re- 
fusal of what we usually call logical intelligence, is an ele- 
vation of the subconscious of man into a position of power 
and magnitude and (the word now forces itself on us) sur- 

Behind this discovery or elevation of surreality lies the 
denial or refusal of reality, and still farther behind that, 
lies a more permanent state of mind of modern man for 
which the French have an excellent word: inquietude, 
which in its English translation of "restlessness" seems in- 
adequate. The current explanation of this inquietude is 
the fact that man in the 20th century is forced to live in a 
period of threatened warfare or literal wars of such in- 
creasing cosmic magnitude that his state of mind is any- 
thing but peaceful. War is the most obvious human ex- 
perience which accentuates the instability of the world. 

18 Age of Surrealism 

It certainly explains to a large degree the urgency felt by 
artists of the 20th century to discover a philosophy and art 
forms which will express their permanent sentiments of 
instability and restlessness. 

If what is usually called real life or realistic life, ceases 
to have meaning, or represents a trap or false ambiency for 
the human spirit, reaction against reality is to be expected. 
An entire literature has come into being whose avowed 
goal was to escape from the real, to create an antidote for 
the insufficiency of realism. It might be called a literature 
of evasion and escape, in which the hero undertakes, not 
an exploration of the world with which he is most familiar, 
but an adventure in a totally exotic land or an investiga- 
tion of his dream world. The example of Rimbaud in 
Ethiopia served as a model for the creative artist who was 
able to cut loose from all the stultifying bourgeois habits 
of living. And Lafcadio, the hero of Andre Gide's Caves 
du Vatican, whose goal is to commit a gratuitous act, an act 
having no motivation and no reason, also epitomized much 
of the new literature. Rimbaud always remained one of 
the gods of the surrealists, and Les Caves du Vatican was 
the book they preferred to all others of Gide, the only one 
of his which they wholeheartedly accepted. 

The new hero is the unadaptable man, the wanderer or 
the dreamer or the perpetrator of illogical action. He rep- 
resents what psychologists would define as the schizoid 
temperament. His method, and even his way of life, is in- 
trospection. For any man to understand himself, he must 
analyze all the varying and contradictory elements which 
go to form his personality. The great prose masters of this 
method of introspection — Dostoievski, Proust, and Gide — 
were heeded and studied by the surrealists who continued 
their method and pushed it so far that what is simply in- 
trospection in a Proust became in surrealist art the dis- 
sociation of personality, the splitting apart of the forces of 
a human character. 

Origins 19 

In whatever century we study him, man seems to remain 
strangely the same and recognizable. We can discover in 
each period the same human problems. What does change 
is the emphasis and the importance of these problems. But 
no matter what particular problem emerges as central and 
characteristic of an age, whether it be political or religious, 
philosophical or psychological, the artist goes about his 
work in much the same way. Whatever the problem of his 
particular age is, the artist, by his very vocation, has to 
make himself into the articulate conscience of the prob- 
lem. The artist does not create the problem of his age, but 
he does create the myth of the problem. That is, the form 
by means of which the problem may in some sense be un- 
derstood and felt by his own age and by subsequent ages. 
The form given to a problem by an artist, which is a myth, 
is precisely that form which will permit the problem to be 
understood in the general hierarchy of all human prob- 
lems. The myth of surrealist art — although it is perhaps 
too early to be certain of it — may well turn out to be the 
myth of the subconscious. That is, the myth of knowledge 
derived from data of man's subconscious activity. 

Three writers especially, one of whom was venerated by 
the surrealists, presided over the emergence of this myth. 
First, the philosopher *j[enri r\f r g* nr f demonstrated by his 
lessons of intuition the need to exceed the bounds of logi- 
cal intelligence. Then, Andre Gide p romulgated his lyrical 
lessons on self-affirmation. One of his early books, his most 
persuasive statement of doctrine, Les Nourritures Terres- 
tres, is a paean of liberation from the traditional standards 
of society. It is a program of search for self-realization, self- 
integration, for morality of self, and especially a sensuous 
rejuvenation and understanding of self. The third among 
these major thinkers of modernism is, of course, Freud , 
whose illuminations on the subconscious form the leading 
principle of the surrealist creed. 

It would be inaccurate to consider Bergson, Gide, and 

20 Age of Surrealism 

Freud as forerunners of the specific school of surrealism. 
They have influenced, in France, especially, and in those 
countries which follow France as a civilizing force, almost 
every aspect of modern thought. But the surrealists have 
derived from them a kind of subterranean impetus and 
confirmation. They have contributed help to the tremen- 
dous problem of sincerity for the modern artist: Bergson, 
in his lessons on the sincerity of intuition; Gide, on the 
sincerity of individual morality; Freud, on the revelations 
of the subconscious mind. The intellect alone, or a life 
regulated by the fixed standards of society, or our con- 
scious states of being considered the sole source of self- 
knowledge, became for such thinkers as Bergson, Gide, and 
Freud, three barriers to sincerity, three ways of leading 
man into contradictory and deceitful life where actions, 
sentiments, and thoughts would be uncoordinated and un- 
fruitful. If the principal problem for a Stendhal around 
1830 seemed to be: how should I act? what should I do?, 
the problem one hundred years later appears to be: what 
am I? how can I attain to the center and the reality of my 
being? The problem of action for the hero of 1830 became 
for the hero of 1930 the problem of personality. The sur- 
realists riveted themselves to this problem and in order to 
attain to some approximation of it have not ceased inter- 
rogating subconscious states of man, hypnotic states, and 

The surrealist found himself preoccupied with a con- 
temporary hamletism. If he found himself unadaptable to 
society, it was because the secret of his being had to be re- 
vealed before he could actively engage in life, before he 
could follow any familiar course of action. This hamlet- 
ism, which is an excessive analysis and study of self, an 
effort to probe into the deep restlessness or inquietude 
of modern man which results in immobility and inactivity, 
seems to be a new form of the mal du siecle, the romantic 
malady of the early 19th century. Proust has been the full- 

Origins 21 

est recorder of this inquietude. He has played the role of 
analyst for our world which Rousseau and Chateaubriand 
played for the 19th century. 


This new mal du siecle or hamletism 
came into great prominence after the first World War. In 
fact dadaism, which is a violent expression of it, originated 
in 1916, in Zurich, before the end of the war. The move- 
ment of Dada was soon replaced in the early 20 's by sur- 
realism, but not before it had expressed its strongly nega- 
tive emphasis on many respectable notions and activities. 
It rebelled against society, language, religion, intelligence, 
and especially literature. The shattering effect of the war 
— that is, the defeatism of the war, felt even after the 
Armistice of 1918 — explains to some degree and perhaps 
very considerably, the inquietude of the young men in the 
post-war world, their sense of futility, and their attacks of 
open remonstrance which find their expression in early 

The direct experience with war accounts therefore 
somewhat for the sense of futility and the philosophy of 
nihilism apparent in much of the surrealist art and litera- 
ture. Andre Malraux, not a surrealist, but one of the best 
prose writers of contemporary France, who in 1947 an- 
nounced unexpectedly his affiliation with De Gaulle and 
right-wing politics, wrote in his early book, Les Conque- 
rants: "Nous avons ete formes dans l'absurde de la guerre." 
In this sentence, "We were formed in the absurdity of 
war," he expresses an underlying thought of his genera- 
tion, which is that of the surrealists. The first surrealists 
were also the first dadaists, and they had all been affected 
and marked in some personal way by the war: Breton, 
Eluard, Aragon, Peret. It is significant that the genesis of 
surrealism, between 1916 and 1922, developed under the 
influence of the war and that the literary works most ad- 

22 Age of Surrealism 

mired by the surrealists, the writings of Lautreamont and 
Rimbaud, came into being at the time of the other war, 
that of 1870, in a comparable spirit of defeatism, in a com- 
parable urgency to destroy traditional values. 

The new movement was named before the end of the 
war by Guillaume Apollinaire. In a letter to Paul Derm£e, 
of March, 1917, Apollinaire stated that he preferred to 
adopt the word surrealism rather than surnaturalism, and 
added that surrealism wasn't yet in the dictionary. Apolli- 
naire at this time was the main god among the living for 
the first surrealists: Breton, Eluard, Aragon, Peret, Sou- 
pault. They also admired Max Jacob and especially the 
painters: Picasso, Matisse, Laurencin, le douanier Rous- 
seau, Derain, Braque, Fernand Leger. The four earlier 
writers whom they all read and studied and claimed as the 
first gods of surrealism, the real ancestors, were Nerval, 
Baudelaire, Lautreamont, and Rimbaud. 

The initial destructive element of surrealism might be 
illustrated by the character and the tragic end of Jacques 
Vache. Before the war Vache had been an art student in 
Paris, of not too great promise. He was sent to war and at 
the front was wounded in early 1916. He was treated, for 
his leg wound, at the neurological center at Nantes where 
Andre Breton, who had begun his career as a medical stu- 
dent, was an interne. The meeting in 1916 at Nantes of 
Breton and Jacques Vache was of capital importance for 
the history of surrealism. In applying the principles of his 
personal philosophy, Vache was to become for Breton and 
for most of the young surrealists, the dramatic symbol of 
their revolt, the man who dared to live his principles, who 
dared to surpass the mere eccentricities of behavior with 
which most of them stopped. 

When Vach£ was released from the hospital, he spent 
his time unloading coal on the wharves of the harbor at 
Nantes, or, dressed in impeccable elegance, frequenting the 
lowest dives of the city. He used to wear alternately a Brit- 

Origins 23 

ish uniform or a French aviation uniform, and give him- 
self invented titles or tell about himself totally imagined 
adventures. The word he was the most serious about de- 
fining was humor, which he called "un sens de l'inutilite 
th£atrale et sans joie de tout, quand on sait." Humor, thus 
defined as the "theatric uselessness of everything," is an 
admirable clue to the meaning of dadaism, over which 
Jacques Vach^ seemed to preside as a kind of prophet. The 
seemingly senseless actions of Vache were really perpe- 
trated in order to create about himself a world of unreal- 
ity. He tried quite literally to live within the realm of his 

He left no work of importance, save a volume of letters, 
Lettres de Guerre (Au sans Pareil, 1919), published after 
his death. His importance was his effect on, first, Andre 
Breton, who said he owed the most to Vache ("C'est a 
Jacques Vache que je dois le plus"), and then on his many 
admirers for whom he was a lucid and brilliant exponent 
of a way of life, or rather a way of looking at art. There 
are passages in his letters of literary nihilism, which be- 
came the manifesto of dadaism: "We have no liking for 
art or for artists — down with Apollinaire!" ("Nous n'ai- 
mons ni Tart ni les artistes — a bas Apollinaire!") Such sen- 
tences as "Nous ignorons Mallarme" ("We don't know 
who Mallarme is") were said in a tone both of scorn and 
high seriousness. They came from his fundamental belief 
in the ludicrous or useless display of art, or at least what 
was traditionally admired as art. 

Vache pushed his philosophy to its logical conclusion by 
taking his own life, at the end of 1918 in Nantes. He was 
a tall red-headed fellow who easily attracted people by his 
physical appearance. His personality and personal convic- 
tions were so strongly felt by his friends and admirers that 
they not only accepted the idea of his suicide but also the 
fact that he took a friend's life at the same time. The 
means of his suicide was an overdose of opium and he gave 

24 Age of Surrealism 

the same amount of opium to a friend who had asked to be 
initiated to the drug. It is more than probable that Vache 
knew what the result of the two doses would be. I mention 
this tragic story first to illustrate the sense of defeatism 
which was felt at the end of the war, and secondly to il- 
lustrate the attraction toward death and self-destruction 
which is apparent in much of surrealist art. Prophecy, 
doom, destiny, occultism, and suicide are all manifesta- 
tions of the pessimistic or nihilistic aspects of surrealism, 
and they will be studied at suitable points throughout this 
book. Vache's suicide was immediately interpreted as a 
kind of martyrdom. He was a martyr to the futility and the 
doom of life, and his action was celebrated as a poetic or 
surrealistic justification of selfhood. 


Surrealism at all times seemed to offer 
suicide as one alternative. But its other alternative has for- 
tunately been believed in and practiced more assiduously 
than the suicidal interpretation. Belief in suicide has been 
strongly counteracted by belief in the miracle of art, in the 
magical qualities and properties of the artist. Surrealism 
receives this belief as a heritage from the early romantics 
of the 19th century, from a conviction about the artist and 
his work which had steadily grown in force and clarity 
throughout the century. The role of the writer was seen 
as usurping more and more the prerogatives of the priest, 
of the miracle-worker, of the man endowed with super- 
natural vision. The work itself of the writer, and particu- 
larly of the poet, was seen more and more to be a magical 
incantation, an evocative magic or witchcraft whose crea- 
tion and whose effect were both miraculous. The artistic 
work might be compared to the "host" of sacramental 
Christianity which contains the "real presence." The poet 
then is the priest who causes the miracle by a 'magical use 
of words, by an incantation which he himself does not fully 

Origins 25 

understand. And the work, thus brought into being, is a 
mystery which can be felt and experienced without neces- 
sarily being comprehended. 

For the most part, the surrealists were poets and hence 
specialists in language. Poetry was for them, as legitimately 
as science and philosophy were for others, the way of 
knowledge. In the deepest sense, surrealism is a way of life, 
a method by means of which we may accept the enigmas 
of existence and in daily living learn to transcend impo- 
tencies, defeats, contradictions, wars. 

In this way of knowledge, by which we are denning sur- 
realism, there is one primary precaution always stressed, 
and this precaution helps to distinguish surrealism from 
other ways of knowledge: in the poetic or artistic creation, 
the poet must not intervene too consciously. He must 
learn the method of making himself into an echo, the 
method of echolalia. To become the magician, or the seer 
(the voyantj as Rimbaud calls him), he must learn to fol- 
low his inner life, or his imagination, as if he were an ob- 
server. He must learn to follow his conscious states, as 
when asleep he observes his dreams. Freud taught the sur- 
realists that man is primarily a sleeper. The surrealist must 
therefore learn how to go down into his dreams, as Or- 
pheus descended into the underworld, in order to discover 
his treasure there. 

One poet, more profoundly than all others, is the ances- 
tor of the surrealists. The position occupied by Charles 
Baudelaire in the history of modern poetry is remarkably 
equidistant between the two extremes or two heresies of 
modern poetry: first, the theory usually referred to as the 
art for art's sake theory (L'art pour Vart) and stressing the 
independence of art from any other occupation or pre- 
occupation of man; and second, the utilitarian theory of 
art which stresses its use and application. Baudelaire's 
life-long avoidance of falling into either one or the other 
heresy of art, is so important and so remarkable that I 

26 Age of Surrealism 

think his position in art might be compared to that of St. 
Thomas Aquinas in theology, who especially in his articles 
on grace, always avoided falling into one of the two possible 
heresies: of determinism or predestination on the one side, 
and of total liberty and independence of man from God's 
help on the other side. 

Baudelaire's lesson on the autonomy of the imagination 
was to become a principal article of surrealist faith. For 
Baudelaire, the work of art is essentially a work of the 
imagination and yet it is true and real at the same time. 
This is perhaps the best way of defining what is meant by 
the sincerity of a work of art: the fidelity with which it 
adheres to the imagination of the artist. Additionally, for 
Baudelaire, a work of the imagination comes from a very 
real kind of anguish. Not so much the impermanent and 
transitory anguish of daily living, of insecurity, of war 
and love, as the inner and deeply permanent anguish of 
man which is usually repressed and covered over with will- 
ful forgetfulness. As in the treatment of psychoanalysis, the 
poet has to go very far down into his past, into the signifi- 
cance of his childhood. Considerable heroism is demanded 
for this facing of oneself in one's past. 

The supernatural heroism of Baudelaire, which is the 
outstanding mark of his genius, was never matched by any 
surrealist writer. But the method and the ritual of his hero- 
ism were used and imitated by the surrealists. Baudelaire's 
self-discovery in his anguish and his self-revelation in his 
writing were archetypal. The artists who followed him, and 
especially the surrealists, have reenacted his method almost 
as a religious mystery, with the conviction that if all as- 
pects of the ritual be observed, the mystery will again be 
achieved. All literature is to some degree psychoanalytic. 
Baudelaire went so deeply into psychoanalytic exploration 
that he passed beyond the personal reminiscence into the 
universal. That moment when the poet arrives at the cen- 
ter of himself and therefore at the center of human destiny, 

Origins 27 

when he participates in the consciousness of the world and 
there establishes a point of contact between himself and 
the world, would be claimed by the men whom we are 
going to study, as the supremely surrealistic moment. 

Baudelaire, and the man he claimed as spiritual brother, 
Edgar Allan Poe, whose life paralleled in so many ways 
Baudelaire's, would offer in their literary works sufficient 
material to establish the origins of surrealism. The particu- 
lar kind of heroic anguish which they had to go through 
before they could attain to what we have called their sur- 
realistic moment, appears to us, as time goes on and we see 
more clearly, propitiatory. An artist like Baudelaire as- 
sumes in himself much of the evil of humanity and by pro- 
jecting it in his work relieves humanity of its evil. When we 
read the flowers of evil of Baudelaire, poems whose subject 
is known to us in varying degrees, we are thereby purged of 
the very evil which was in us. One of the most precious 
concepts of our world is the cathartic principle of art, 
which we owe to the Poetics of Aristotle. The surrealists, 
with the example especially of Baudelaire, have given to 
the doctrine of catharsis a renewed and vigorous interpre- 
tation. The myth of psychoanalysis, or rather the myth of 
the subconscious, which would be one facile way of de- 
scribing the myth created and recreated by the surrealists, 
was formed in the wake of invasions, wars, and revolutions, 
in company with neo-thomism and communism, as a way 
of integrating and uniting scientific determinism and 
poetic sublimation. *When one knows oneself (science* 
means knowledge), at the end, say, of the performance of a I 
tragedy, or after the reading of a poem, or after contem- j 
plating the spectacle of a painting, one has lived through \ 
both a human experience and its absolution. Infinitely 
more than practices which might be called classical, or 
romantic, surrealism has emphasized the closeness of art to 
a certain kind of psychic human experience and the reme- 
dial effect which such an art has on the human spirit. 

II ■ LAUTREAMONT: the temperament 


The word most often used to describe 
the romantic temperament is individualism. The romantic 
is generally considered the type of artist who has broken the 
rules and constraining bonds of an established order. By 
individualism is meant the prestige of liberty with which 
the artist has covered himself, the intoxication of freedom 
and rebellion. But before attaining to this experience of 
himself, the romantic has had to go through a longer and, 
I believe, a far -more significant experience which is that of 
solitude — a very particular kind of solitude which results 
in forming the prevailing temperament of the great mod- 
ern artists. 

The destiny of a classical artist, like Racine, is implicit 
in the work which he is called upon to write, which lies 
ahead of him in the rules of composition, in the ideals of 
art, in the beliefs and needs of a society, in all the peda- 
gogical and sociological privileges which he inherits. In 
this sense, the classical artist writes in the midst of a vast 
company, both past and present. He is never without 
models, and never without teachers and critics and a public. 

Lautr^amont 29 

The romantic, or his successor, the surrealist, has no such 
inheritance and no such guidance. He finds himself in the 
midst, not of a vast company, but of a vast solitariness. 
The world he discovers is in ruins. The early romantics 
very literally used a d£cor of ruins as the familiar setting 
for their thoughts and their experiences. Such a man has no 
model but himself; he has no destiny to accomplish, but a 
destiny to discover and invent. 

It is true that the modern schools of poetry — the roman- 
tics, the parnassians, the symbolists, and the surrealists — all 
have their various meetings and gatherings, their cenacles, 
their cafes and even their salons, such as Mallarme's apart- 
ment on the rue de Rome; but the artists remained solitary, 
always uncertain of their artistic enterprises for which there 
seemed to be no precedent and no public. They no longer 
wrote about celebrated heroes, whose adventures were 
known, because each one had to become a new and unique 
solitary hero, discovering in his own conscience and his own 
memory the subject matter of his works. 

The experience of solitude probably explains more 
about modern literature and art than any other single expe- 
rience. And I am thinking of the solitude of such different 
geniuses as Vigny in his ivory tower, Hugo on his islands, 
Rimbaud in his voyages and escapes, Claudel in his reli- 
gious meditations, Joyce in his exile from Dublin. In his 
solitude, which is his inheritance, the modern artist has 
had to learn that the universe which he is going to write 
or paint is in himself. He has learned that this universe 
which he carries about in himself is singularly personal 
and unique as well as universal. To find in oneself what 
is original and at the same time what can be translated 
into universal terms and transmitted, became the anxiety 
and the occupation of the modern artist. The romantics 
held this belief partially and intuitively. The surrealists 
made it into a creed and a method. Surrealism was actually 
founded on the doctrine that the artist does not belong to 

30 Age of Surrealism 

any one period and that he must discover solely in himself 

his universe. 

The man who did more than any other to bridge the 
gap between the romantic perception, only faintly illumi- 
nated, and the surrealist dogmatism was Isidore Ducasse, 
who called himself Comte de Lautr£amont. 

No portrait exists of Lautreamont and almost no facts are 
known about his life. One set of facts were indeed published 
about him, whereupon the surrealists, who prefer to main- 
tain an atmosphere of mystery and anonymity about their 
ancestor, set about to prove, and did so, conclusively, that 
the published facts concerned another Ducasse. The bio- 
graphical details about Lautreamont which do seem au- 
thentic, and which have been parsimoniously given out 
by the surrealists, may be summarized in a few sentences. 
He was born in 1846 in Montevideo, Uraguay, where his 
father, whose family originally came from the Pyrenees, 
occupied a post in the French Consulate. At the age of 14, 
Isidore Ducasse crossed the ocean and came to France. He 
was a pupil in the lycee de Tarbes, and then at the lycee de 
Pau (in the Basses-Pyrenees), where in 1865 he seems to 
have completed his year of philosophy, Or final year at the 

He then went to Paris, ostensibly to present himself 
for entrance at the Ecole Polytechnique. Here any accurate 
trace of him is pretty much lost. He seems to have studied 
the piano and lived in various small hotels, particularly 
number 15, rue Vivienne, which is named in an important 
passage of his writings, and number 7, faubourg Mont- 
martre, where he died on the 3rd of November, 1870, at the 
age of 24. Two years before his death, in 1868, Lautrea- 
mont printed, at his own expense, the first canto of Mal- 
doror. The following year, 1869, he found a Belgian pub- 
lisher, Lacroix, who agreed to publish his complete work, 
the six cantos which compose Les Chants de Maldoror. 
The edition was printed, and then it seems that the pub- 

LautrIamont 31 

lisher became terrified at the boldness of the text and re- 
fused to put it on sale. The first edition was not sold until 
ten years later, in 1879. The only other publication during 
Lautr£amont's lifetime was a small work called Preface aux 
Poesies , brought out just a few months before his death, 
and was destined to become for the surrealists a text as im- 
portant as Les Chants de Maldoror. It was not until 1890 
that a new edition of Lautreamont was brought out, this 
time chez Genonceaux. The work was unknown during 
the symbolist period. Gide states, in one of his books, that 
Lautreamont exerted no influence on the 19th century, 
although in the 20th century he became one of the most 
influential writers and opened up the dykes of the new 
literature. A new edition of Les Chants was published in 
1920, under the direction of the writer Blaise Cendrars, 
and since then many other editions have appeared and 
made the writing of Lautreamont very accessible. 

The surrealists have venerated the obscurity and the 
solitude of Lautr£amont's life. The absence of any photo- 
graphic resemblance of him has incited them to create 
imaginary portraits based upon the literary testament 
which he left. Les Chants de Maldoror come from a single 
mind, from the sensibility of one man who lived in almost 
total solitude in the midst of modern European civilization 
and who, like Rimbaud (who was writing his first poems 
when Lautreamont died), traversed in the space of just a 
few years, approximately 1865-1870, a whole century of 
human experience. A few readings which are traceable in 
his work, in addition to the particular kind of solitude he 
lived, were sufficient to call forth from him a series of 
images and of themes, whose intensity and meaning go very 
far in explaining much of modern art. His temperament, 
formed by a modern genus of solitude, created a series of 
images, which are those of the modern artist, and which 
seemingly can be explained best in terms of this mysterious 

32 Age of Surrealism 


It is important to remember that for the 
surrealists, Lautreamont was much more significant than 
a mere literary figure could ever be. He is their ancestor 
not so much by virtue of having created a new literary at- 
mosphere or a new literary work, as by virtue of having 
created a domain inclusive of literature and art but far 
more extensive. For the surrealists the language of Lautrea- 
mont seems to have a dissolving power. What he literally 
committed to the page is striking and bold and almost un- 
thinkable at times, but what is important is the degree of 
life and vision, and particularly of futurity in life and 
vision, which can be evoked from the work. Its language 
and its image may therefore dissolve into a reality greater 
than they, a reality which is not translatable into language. 

Certain modes of experience are so ineffable that when 
an attempt is made to cast them into language, they appear 
estranged from themselves, weakened and vilified. Much 
of 19th century poetry is inferior to the experience with 
which it is concerned. It became an art which generated 
itself, which emoted over itself and kept within its florid 
bounds of rules and similes and commonplaces and cliches. 
Most romantic, parnassian, and symbolist poetry is starkly 
and laboriously conventional. Poetry had largely suc- 
cumbed to its fatal and always imminent disease of facile 
rhetoric. When poetry becomes wholly dependent on the 
currently used, easily understandable language of its own 
period, it dies of itself, of inertia and boredom. 

Lautreamont and Rimbaud, the two adolescents of 
French literature, have uttered the strongest invective 
against 19th century poets. In the work of each of them a 
page is devoted to a listing of names and to a violent exer- 
cise of name-calling. They were the most deeply aware of 
the impasse against which poetic convention had pushed 
poetry, and, because they were young, didn't hesitate to 

Lautr£amont 33 

use destructive criticism. Their very youth had made them 
more demanding of poetry and more impatient with poets 
who exacted nothing from language and hence were un- 
able to create language. Lautreamont sensed the need for 
the poetic temperament to undergo a fundamental change. 
Rimbaud forced the word, the poetic communication, to 
undergo a comparable change. 

A revolutionary — and Lautreamont was certainly that 
in terms of poetic sensibility — may be very easily accused 
of madness and perversity. Leon Bloy and Remy de Gour- 
mont both used the word "insanity" in speaking of Lau- i 
treamont, but the surrealists always stressed the fact that 
no clear demarcation can be made between a state of poetic \ 
creativity and a state of insanity. Both states are confused, 
and rightfully so, they believed, because in both, man has 
to leave himself, move out from his habitual conventional 
reactions and see everything in the world, and particularly 
his own thoughts, in a totally fresh and unpredictable 
manner. Therefore, according to the surrealists, chance 
coalitions which may take place in free imaginative states 
of mind are more valuable in the making of art than the 
logical juxtapositions we impose upon words and sounds 
and colors in our trained consciously focused states of mind. 
This is why Paul Eluard could call surrealism a "state of 

At the beginning of Lautreamont's work, in the first 
canto of Maldoror, we learn that the experience which is 
going to be related is the career of evil. On page 3, Lau- 
treamont says that Maldoror, after living for a few years, 
made the discovery that he had been born wicked, and "il 
se jeta resolument dans la carriere du mal." This phrase, 
"the career of evil," is a violent announcement for a work 
of art. It prepares us at the outset for a sombre revelation 
and informs us that the work is to be read as a book of 
negation. The subject matter is to be the disaster and 
catastrophe of human experience. The narrative of Mal- 

34 Age of Surrealism 

doror is therefore not to be what we often find in literary 
works — a sublimation or an embellishment of life. It is to 
be the reverse of all that — the going backwards of man 
(since evil is the negation of the good), the plunge into 
human existence at a point which will often appear, as we 
read Les Chants de Maldoror, pre-historical, a point in 
time before human existence began. The large number of 
animals, and particularly of sea animals (sharks, whales, 
crabs, frogs, octopuses) and birds of all kinds, which inhabit 
the pages of Maldoror, accentuate this important theme of 
the reversal of chronology, this turning back of man in 
order to track down the origin of his dilemma and anguish 
and evil. 

Throughout the six cantos, Lautreamont maintains, as 
one of his primary themes, the relationship of man with 
the physical universe, with what often appears to be the 
prehistoric physical universe. The hero Maldoror, who is 
in many respects the outstanding surrealist hero, is con- 
ceived of as a man still very close to his memory of animals, 
still very close to the time when he himself participated in 
an animal existence. He is the hero closely and fervently 
animalistic, and hence sadistic; the being who moves and 
acts in accordance with cruelty. He finds himself midway 
between two beings: between the purely physical being, 
such as a shark, and the purely spiritual being whom he 
calls God. Maldoror finds himself equally distributed be- 
tween matter and spirit, and therefore equally drawn 
toward animals and toward God. But since the cantos 
are to narrate his career of evil, he describes his sadistic 
impulses more exclusively than his spiritually motivated im- 
pulses. The initial phrase, "the career of evil," implies that 
Maldoror feels closer allegiance to the physical than to the 
spiritual, that he is going to attempt to live solely by sadis- 
tic evil. Yet, the career of evil never completely obliterates 
the career of the spirit, and Maldoror states, also in the 
first canto, his need for the infinite: Moi, comme les chiens, 

Lautreamont 35 

fSprouve le besoin de I'infini. But such a need as this is 
followed by the need to feel himself the son of a shark or of 
a tiger. 

I suppose that never has a literary hero felt so perfectly 
ambivalent as Maldoror. This evenly partitioned ambiva- 
lence, unique perhaps in Lautreamont, has its antecedents 
throughout the history of man, in the age-long struggle be- 
tween good and evil, God and Lucifer, the spiritual and 
the material, the unicorn and the lion. The duality of man 
is inescapably reflected in art. In every work of art is present 
an element of beauty, so persistently recognizable in every 
age, so closely identical with every spectator's aspiration 
toward the ideal, that we can call it by no other term than 
eternal. Undefinable and mysterious as it may be, this eter- 
nal element marks every kind of work of art, whether it be 
a Greek statue or a tragedy of Sophocles or a sonnet of 
Mallarme or a painting of Dali. And then, secondly, to 
complete this duality, each work of art is characterized by 
an immediate temporal aspect. It may reveal some conno- 
tation of its period in history, or a system of morality, or 
the reflection of a personal anguish or passion. A work of 
art is always made by a temporal man who catches in one 
moment of time the color of that moment as well as its 
eternality. So, the Greek statue, as well as giving its intui- 
tion of timelessness, adumbrates a purely temporal marble 
and the ideal human body according to an historical period 
and mores. 

The duality of man and the duality of all art are fur- 
ther exemplified in the very particular duality of the art- 
ist whose temperament or temperamental ambiguities are 
projected in highly dramatic fashion in Lautreamont. The 
permanent drama of man is the struggle between good and 
evil. This is treated directly and vehemently in Les Chants 
de Maldoror. But it is prefigured in the permanent drama 
of every artist. This drama is the struggle to attain some 
harmony between the two needs of the artist: first, the 

36 Age of Surrealism 

need to be a man of the world, that is, a man who some- 
how understands the world and the reasons for the customs 
of the world; and second, the need to be the specialist, 
chained to his palette or his marble or his language. 

The conflict in every artist is the need to understand the 
world and the need to live apart from it. But he has to 
understand the world not in the usual moral and political 
way, but in a manner which I have already described as 
prehistorical. The great artist — and this I take to be the 
surrealist lesson of Lautreamont — has to be able to return 
to those shadowy worlds existing before birth and after 
death. The great artist has to remember everything: not 
merely the wars and revolutions of his time, but of time 
before time, of the war in heaven, of apocalyptic wars and 
infernal punishments. 

Most men are simply curious about history and politics. 
But in the artist, this curiosity grows into a monstrous kind 
of passion, into a force which is fatal and irresistible. It 
makes of him a singular being capable of all metamor- 
phoses. This is, to a large extent, the subject matter of 
Les Chants de Maldoror. On one level, Maldoror is able 
to metamorphose himself into an animal, in much the 
same way as a character of Kafka changes into a cockroach. 
But on the other level, his tortuous pride and his memory 
make him desirous of equaling God. Again in the first 
canto, we come upon this sentence: il voudrait egaler Dieu. 
This surrealist metamorphosis of Maldoror, which moves 
in two directions, one toward the physical and the other 
toward the spiritual, is really the annihilation of time, by 
which the hero is able to descend into the mysterious past 
when man was one with God. He has never recovered from 
the haunting memory of some distant and buried crime 
which turned him against God. 

To use the word consecrated and especially defined in 
French literature by Charles Baudelaire, the modern artist 
has become the "dandy." Le dandy is the being dramatized 

Lautr^amont 37 

and allegorized by Lautreamont in his character Maldoror. 
The dandy, according to Baudelaire, has critical intelli- 
gence and a finely developed sensitivity and character, but 
he is constantly aspiring to a coldness of feeling, a hardness 
of character, an insensibility, an inscrutability. This is a 
tight-fitting mask which he must forge every day in order 
not to betray himself when in the world. The dandy learns 
how to feign hostility and indifference until they become 
naturally instinctive in him. His fear is the same as Mal- 
doror's fear — that to appear sincere in his worldly relation- 
ships would be equivalent to appearing ridiculous. 

This problem or dilemma of the artist's particular dual- 
ity has reoccurred in some form or other, according to some 
type or other, in each age since the Renaissance, since the 
so-called beginning of modern history, and seems indeed to 
be one of the distinguishing features of the modern world. 
It is apparent in the "gentilhomme" of the 16th century, 
in the noble who wants to be at the same time scholar and 
humanist. Montaigne, for example, was always fearful of 
being considered a professional writer, and strove to main- 
tain an attitude of detachment and even of derision toward 
the pedant and the industrious scholar. In the 17th century, 
the "honnete homme" is another name for the same kind 
of man, who avoids becoming a specialist in order to know 
something about everything and thus show his preference 
for nothing. La Rochefoucauld's maxim which states that 
the "honnete homme" refuses to be disturbed or involved 
(qui ne se pique de rien) is a code not unlike that of the 
libertine of the 18th century, who practices a licence on 
morals as well as in thought, and of Baudelaire's dandy of 
the 19th century. The case of Maldoror, which is our study 
of the surrealist temperament, is an instance and a deep 
study of the Baudelairian dandy and hence of the modern 
artist — the man who has to see the world, who has to live 
in its center, and who all the time has to remain hidden 
from the world. Such an ambiguous r61e, which I think 

38 Age of Surrealism 

can be traced to the early Renaissance when Christendom 
began its secularization, allows us quite justifiably to con- 
sider the modern artist the secularized priest, the one who, 
forced by his vocation to live apart from the world, is never- 
theless the profoundest conscience of the world, the most 
accurate recorder and interpreter of the world's problems. 


In this light, the experience of solitude 
for the modern artist is religious. It is the experience of a 
sacrament. Both preparation and absolution, it effects a 
complete change in the human being. The solitude of 
Lautreamont, who was known personally by so few people, 
whose itinerary, only eighty years ago, through such a mod- 
ern city as Paris, is not traceable, and the solitude of his 
hero Maldoror who contemplates one scene after another 
in the world, only to lay waste to it when he himself partici- 
pates in it, have the same secret force of a destiny. Solitude 
seems to be the destined climate and need and fulfillment 
of the modern artist. Baudelaire, in his personal journal, 
Mon coeur mis a nu, acknowledges this same thought: 
sentiment de destinee eternellement solitaire. 

The center of this inescapable solitude is the scene of 
Lautreamont's revolt against God, made all the more 
dramatic and bare because of the solitude. Les Chants de 
Maldoror illustrate what Baudelaire analyzed as the mod- 
ern type of beauty, namely a commingling of mystery and 
tragedy. Mystere and malheur were the words Baudelaire 
used, and he referred to Milton's Satan as a leading type of 
virile beauty. This Baudelairian definition of the beautiful 
might easily be applied to the art of other periods, to the 
Oedipus of Sophocles and the Phedre of Racine, for exam- 
ple, but Lautreamont, writing in the wake of Baudelaire's 
doctrine, made a shocking and violent use of it, and the 
surrealists held steadfastly to this particular illustration 
of the theory. 

Lautr£amont 39 

The celebrated scene between Maldoror and a female 
shark which takes place almost at the end of the second 
canto, would serve to depict the Baudelairian and surreal- 
ist type of beauty, as well as to indicate the main traits of 
Maldoror's revolt against God, and hence the dandy's in- 
difference about life. 

The scene is prefaced by an important passage dealing 
precisely with the theme of solitude, of predestined soli- 
tude which may well explain the excessive action of sadism 
and bestiality. Maldoror says that he had searched every- 
where for a kindred spirit, for a soul which resembled his, 
but he had found no one. By day a young man had ap- 
proached him, offering his friendship, but Maldoror had 
turned him aside. By night he had spoken to a beautiful 
woman but had been unable to accept her love. This is the 
setting of a parable. The first act of the drama now begins. 
Maldoror, seated on a rock by the shore, watches a storm 
rise up and hurl a large ship against a reef. The drowning 
men try to prolong their lives because they fail to recog- 
nize the fish of the sea as their ancestors. Fetishistically, 
Maldoror prods his cheek with a sharp piece of iron in 
order to increase the suffering of the victims from the boat. 
This is the first strong note of sadistic pleasure which Mal- 
doror is deriving from the shipwreck scene. He takes his 
gun and finishes off those few who are on the point of 
escaping, especially a boy who, stronger than the rest, 
swims to only 200 meters off the shore. But Maldoror says 
that he was tired of always killing, that his pleasure had 
diminished, that he was not really so cruel as later he was 
accused of being. We half see in such a statement that 
cruelty is a willed regimen, an experimentation. Yet Mal- 
doror makes no effort to excuse himself: he acknowledges 
that, when he commits a crime, he knows what he is doing. 
A second act, more terrifying than the first, begins when 
the ship finally sinks into the sea and the many survivors 
are left floundering about on the surface. A school of sharks 

40 Age of Surrealism 

adds a new horror to the scene and the water becomes crim- 
son with blood. At that moment a huge female shark, 
famished, arrives and destroys all but three of the male 
sharks. Maldoror kills one of these with his gun, and then 
dives into the ocean to attack with his bare hands and a 
knife one of the sharks while the female slays the one re- 
maining monster. Alone, then, in the water with the female 
shark, Maldoror unites with her in a ferocious embrace. 
This, of course, is the culmination of the drama, which is 
in itself a kind of metamorphosis. Maldoror recapitulates 
the introductory theme, when he says that the shark re- 
sembles him, that he is no longer alone and that he has 
experienced his first love. 

Such a scene as this, I might say, in the violence of its 
beauty and its horror, has not been exceeded in the writ- 
ings and the paintings of the surrealists. For a scene of 
comparable power and awesomeness, one would perhaps 
have to go to Dante's Inferno, to the circle, for example, 
where thieves are punished by having their bodies united 
with the bodies of snakes. This shark scene of the second 
canto is exemplary of two fundamental literary qualities 
mentioned by Baudelaire in his work, Fusees, two qualities 
rigorously adhered to by the surrealists — supernaturalism 
and irony. The attraction of the shark is at least mysterious 
if not supernatural, and Maldoror's first discovery of love 
in his mating with the sea monster is strongly ironic, ac- 
cording to any ordinary measurement of human standards. 

The act of love is here portrayed in a scene which reveals 
its most primitive aspect of torture — as the act of prayer 
might easily be portrayed in its most primitive aspect of 
magic. But for our specific purpose, which is an understand- 
ing of the meaning of surrealism, this scene, so strongly 
primitive in its ferocity and incredibility, so reminiscent 
of our dream world where we cohabit with monsters, 
might help us to establish the myth of the artist, as specifi- 
cally enacted by Maldoror. Again we return to Baudelaire, 

LautrIamont 41 

for textual confirmation in his journal, Mori coeur mis a 
nu, where he writes that only three types of men are re- 
; spectable, as judged by the temperament of the artist. 
These are the priest, the warrior and the poet. All other 
men exercise what Baudelaire scornfully calls professions; 
that is, I suppose, perfectly measurable and conventional- 
ized lives. With each of these three types, Baudelaire associ- 
ates a verb, that is, a strong action. For the priest, it is "to 
know," for the warrior, "to kill," for the poet, "to create." 
These combined roles in the artist — of priest, warrior, poet; 
or of knower, killer, creator — form the myth of the artist, 
and are, curiously enough, quite evident in Maldoror's 
scene with the female shark. First he presides over it as a 
priest might preside over a complicated ritual: he predicts 
and knows it and seems even to control it. And then, like 
the warrior, he participates in actual destructiveness and 
slaughter. Finally, like the poet, he creates anew form of 
himself in his union with the monster. 

The entire passage shows the combined contradictions 
of feeling which every artist experiences before the spec- 
tacle of life: the feelings of horror and ecstasy. The ecstasy 
of the priest, who knows transcendently, and the horror 
of the warrior, who kills in obedience to a deeply im- 
bedded primitive instinct, have to be combined in the 
creation of the poet which is the formalized metaphor of 
horror and ecstasy. The orderly evolution of the three 
verbs, to know, to kill, to create is at once the expression 
of a temperament and the process of a myth. It is in close 
accord with the aesthetic doctrine which defines the beauti- 
ful in terms of mystery and tragedy. 

If the mysterious and the tragic are permanent traits in 
all art, they are intimately related to the surrealist (or even 
modern) hermeticism of poetic form and content. This 
hermeticism or obscurity or secretiveness in both the for- 
malized aspect and the subject matter perhaps best charac- 
terizes the intensity of the new art, and especially surrealist 

42 Age of Surrealism 

art. Every human life is more characterized by mystery and 
secretiveness than by comprehensiveness and lucidity. For 
the surrealists the secret of Lautreamont's life was the sign 
of the inaccessible character of his work. The difficulty or 
obscurity of artistic form always comes from the mysteri- 
ousness or inaccessibility of the content. The content of 
Les Chants de Maldoror, as is evident from the shark epi- 
sode is perhaps the most incomprehensible of all possible 
themes, because it is the insubordination of man to God. 
This theme of man's revolt against God is in almost all of 
the greatest literary works: in Aeschylus, in the story of 
Moses, in Dante's Inferno, where it is the only subject, 
in Milton, Goethe, Baudelaire. Maldoror's pride is that 
of the damned, whose beauty is horror and whose memory 
is ecstasy. 


The newness of Maldoror and his spe- 
cifically surrealistic character is his exaggeration of revolt, 
its absolute quality, and the humanized and degraded 
portraiture he gives of God. Maldoror appears not only in 
a state of revolt against God, but as a rivaling and neigh- 
boring monarch to God. In his need to equal God, he utters 
extreme blasphemy and at the same time he creates meta- 
phorically in his writing an important aspect of art usually 
called the "grotesque." The long passage which terminates 
the third canto is a brothel scene in which Maldoror lis- 
tens to the speech of a gigantic hair fallen from God's head. 
The blasphemy consists of thinking of God as having 
committed sin and crime. The divine misdemeanors had 
awakened from their sleep of centuries in the catacombs 
under the brothel, which significantly was once a convent, 
the nuns who, like those of us living in the modern world, 
are overcome with a strange malaise and anxiety. So, God 
Himself receives the stigmata and has to strive to rehabili- 
tate Himself in the world of men. God talks about His 
shame as being endless as eternity: ma honte est immense 

Lautreamont 43 

comme Veternite. In such scenes in which God is degraded, 
Maldoror reveals himself as an integral anarchist, as the 
destroyer not only of human but also of divine values. 

If the writer Lautreamont was in revolt against what was 
currently accepted in his day as "literature," namely the 
well-rounded inflated sentence of romantic style, his charac- 
ter Maldoror was in revolt against conventionalized feel- 
ings and respected taboos. The surest and crudest way to 
overcome dramatized feelings and pompous and stub- 
bornly stated affiliations is to make fun of them. Les Chants 
de Maldoror, even in such serious scenes as those of the 
female shark and the hair from God's head, contain an 
aspect of the modern type of humor and the comic which 
is so important in the work of Picasso, Joyce, and Proust. I 
am confident that Lautreamont and the surrealists were 
scornful of the traditional type of comedy, as exemplified 
in Aristophanes and Moliere. They were as strongly op- 
posed to the exaggerated verbal logic of romanticism, of a 
Chateaubriand, for example, whom Lautreamont called the 
"melancholy Mohican," as they were opposed to the intel- 
lectual logic and rule of good common sense, which have 
always been extolled and exemplified by the culture of 
France. Lautreamont and the surrealists, in their role of 
ardently minded revolutionaries, would have been morti- 
fied in using any of the traditional forms of comedy and 
tragedy. Blasphemy, which is a combination of the serious 
and the comic, is their mode. When art is somewhat domi- 
nated by the grotesque (which is always allied with blas- 
phemy) the spirit of modern man is more at ease in con- 
sidering the serious, the tragic, the religious. I am thinking 
here not only of Lautreamont and the surrealists, of 
Picasso, Proust, and Joyce, but also, to a lesser degree, of 
course, of The New Yorker, Mickey Mouse, Charles Chap- 
lin, Fernandel. 

Maldoror, in his many experiences of violence and re- 
volt, is trying to destroy the voice of his conscience, to for- 
get the lessons of tradition and convention. He turns 

44 Age of Surrealism 

against the family, as the prodigal son did, and initiates a 
fervent line of modern prodigal sons, of whom the most 
illustrious are Rimbaud and Gide. In him, love and hate 
are perfectly fused, as they must inevitably be in any real 
experience of blasphemy. Both the writer and his creature, 
both Lautreamont and Maldoror, are the same adolescent 
who makes of his revolt, so equally composed of love and 
hate, a search for the absolute. This is a mark of ado- 
lescents: they are the most fervent seekers of the absolute. 
As they grow older, only the few among them who become 
by vocation poets, philosophers, and saints remain seekers 
of the absolute. 

So, the adolescent revolutionist turns against his family, 
against the books of his schoolmasters, and against his 
society. But after knowing during their adolescence the 
passion of revolution, most revolutionists become lovers. 
Lautreamont, as far as his book is concerned, did not 
become lover. His book deals only with the principle of de- 
struction, and not with the principle which follows destruc- 
tion, when the revolutionist becomes lover, namely the 
principle of possession. Lautreamont, then, represents the 
first stage of an evolution. He is the pure example of revo- 
lutionist. He will be followed by the lover, whose principle 
is possession, and who will be followed in his turn by the 
poet, whose principle is creation. 

These three types, revolutionist, lover, and poet, are not 
always graphically discernible. The adolescent usually con- 
ceals his revolt and acts out, for the world to see, another 
kind of life. In Lautreamont, for example, the revolt is 
only parabolically manifested. The lover, also, in most 
cases, has to conceal his love, or at least the intensity of 
his love. He becomes thereby, not so much the actor which 
the adolescent revolutionist becomes, as the buffoon or the 
clown who hides his tragedy by means of mimicry. And 
finally the poet, in the third panel of this triptych, con- 
ceals his experience by means of a metaphor. 

/// • RIMBAUD: the doctrine 


Without always realizing it, Rimbaud 
explicated by the example of his life and by the far less 
mysterious example of his work, an aesthetic doctrine 
which had been slowly formulating in France during the 
19th century. Baudelaire had made the most significant 
contribution to the doctrine. He had almost systematized 
it, in a fragmentary way. He had substantiated it by his 
critique of the writings of Swedenborg and Poe. He had 
become, what Rimbaud justly acclaimed him, the first 
visionary (le premier voyant) and king of poets (roi des 
poetes). Baudelaire died in 1867, ten years after the publi- 
cation of his Fleurs du Mat, and all during the 1860's 
Mallarme wrote his first poems which were efforts toward 
the perfecting of this poetic theory. The poems of Mal- 
larme are the purest achievements of the new doctrine. 

At the very end of the 1860's and during the first three 
years of the 1870's, Rimbaud gave vent to this doctrine, 
as a child might, in a veritable storm. His brief existence 
as poet — about four yeara — had the compressed turbulent 
beauty of a storm, of some cosmic upheaval which spends 
itself in brilliant flashes. The fire and heat of an earth- 

46 Age of Surrealism 

quake explode after a long period of preparation, after a 
long period of waiting and compressed power. In the case 
of Rimbaud, the years of repression were long for a child 
during which he had received no normal affection from his 
mother and when his father, who might have loved him, 
was absent from the home and whose name the son was not 
permitted to mention. In no literary work, not even Lau- 
treamont's, is one so aware, as in Rimbaud's, of a former 
existence, of a life of the spirit which grew inwardly and 
deeply because of an outward life of repression. His writ- 
ing is so composed of flashes, of magnificent restless flames, 
that one can explain it not by the usual method of biog- 
raphy and literary sources and philosophical concepts, but 
by the theory that it springs from a deep and hidden life, 
a former life perhaps, at least an unreal or surreal life. 

To define, at first very briefly, this doctrine, intimated 
by Baudelaire, perfected by Mallarme, and given by Rim- 
baud its most explosive expression, as in some violent 
dream, we might say that it seems to be a belief in the re- 
lationship which necessarily exists between a poem and 
witchcraft or magic or sortilege, as the French call it. A 
poem comes into being due to a process which, like al- 
chemy, is magical and therefore foreign to the rules of 
logic and even the rules of instinct. According to this pre- 
cept, a poem originates in this hidden life of the spirit and 
therefore is a reflection of this previous or submerged life. 

Rimbaud never knew the writings of Lautreamont. The 
two adolescents were unknown to one another, but wrote 
almost at the same time. Lautreamont had just completed 
his Chants de Maldoror when Rimbaud was writing his 
first poems. With the innocency of a child, Lautreamont 
stepped out of the period we designate as history or as time. 
And Arthur Rimbaud did likewise. History is man's free- 
dom in good and evil. The end of history will be the end 
of this freedom. And the period before history we can only 
call the period of God's creativeness. But into some fie- 

Rimbaud 47 

tional replicas of that time-before-history Lautreamont 
and Rimbaud entered. Their freedom from good and 
evil was almost consummated there, because they seem, 
in their writing, which is their exceptional memory of time- 
before-history, to have ceased being men choosing freely 
between good and evil, and to have become personalities, 
now of good, now of evil. They give the impression of hav- 
ing been subjugated by good and evil without having made 
the choice themselves, by use of their own will-power. As 
we read their story in the hard glazed brittleness of their 
language, we see more and more clearly the contours of the 
strange myth from which their experience springs. From 
the myth before time and from before the incarnate ex- 
pression of love. Every man, even if it is only for an hour 
or a day of his life, experiences, I believe, the reality of this 
myth. The myth of the void is as true as the myth of the 
creation, and for the creative artist, the first myth, that of 
formlessness and nothingness, is the most terrifying story 
of mankind. 


The principal document on Rimbaud's 
method is a letter he wrote on May 15, 1871, usually re- 
ferred to as the Lettre du Voyant. It marks the culmination 
of the first period of his poet's existence, characterized not 
so much by a poetic production as by a finding of himself 
and especially a discovery of a poetic theory. Most of his 
poetry is to be written between the summer of 1871, when 
he composes Bateau Ivre and the summer of 1873, when he 
completes his final work, Une Saison en Enfer. 

The months leading up to May of 1871 had been filled 
with excessive kinds of living and disturbing experiences. 
January was largely given over to extensive readings on 
magic and allied subjects in the Public Library at Charle- 
ville. In February he escaped from home for the third time 
and went to Paris. On returning home one night, the artist 

48 Age of Surrealism 

Andre Gill found Rimbaud asleep in his studio and sent 
him off with ten francs. Rimbaud returned penniless and 
famished to Charleville in March, only to be off again to 
Paris in April when he hoped to participate in the Com- 
mune and enlisted in the "tirailleurs de la Revolution." 
After a violent physical experience in the barracks, he 
returned to Charleville in May, from where he wrote the 
letter which is today considered a veritable poetic mani- 
festo. He had spent much of the spring in low dives and 
bars drinking quantities of beer, especially when he was in 
Charleville, and smoking incessantly on his pipe. I men- 
tion these details because Rimbaud was only sixteen at 
this time and was unquestionably, with the vanity which 
characterizes a genius adolescent, engaging upon a kind of 
defiance of himself, testing himself in a willful manner. 
By means of physical excesses and exhaustions, of a nature 
that would be shocking to his mother and all bourgeois 
standards, he was trying to arrive at a spiritual lucidity, * 
at a state of inner awareness which he will call la Voyance J 
or vision. By degrading his physical and social self, he 
hoped to attain to a new functioning of his spirit. Rim- 
baud was actually performing during the spring of 1871 an 
inverted or ironic exercise of asceticism. 

On May 13, he sent a letter to his teacher Izambard 
who had befriended and guided him during the entire 
year of 1870. This letter is a kind of first draft of the 
more important letter he is to write two days later. In it he 
denounces Izambard for remaining too much the school 
teacher, for being too bent on an academic career and 
being already too fossilized. Then he defines the principle 

F of his recent life: his willful seeking of degradation: je me 
fais entretenir; je m'encrapule; and, still more important, 
the reason for this principle: je travaille a me rendre voy- 

) ant ("I am laboring to become a visionary"). 

Rimbaud felt that Izambard didn't understand this 
letter, nor the poem he inserted in it. So, two days later, 

Rimbaud 49 

on the 15th of May, he wrote a long letter to a friend of 
Izambard, Paul Demeny, from which I shall extract a few 
themes which appear essential for an understanding of 
Rimbaud and much of modern poetry and especially for 
the aesthetic doctrine of the surrealists. 

The letter is a violent revision of values, and begins, 
curiously enough, with mention of the poetry of antiquity, 
which Rimbaud says culminates in Greek poetry. In Janu- 
ary, he had been reading books on Oriental religions, and 
on the tradition of Orphism in Greek poetry. Much in 
Rimbaud is reminiscent of the rites of purification and 
secret initiation by means of which one attains to an 
ecstasy which is the liberation of the soul from the body. 
Pythagoras and Plato had been initiates of these mysteries. 
In fact, the essence of the Greek spirit might be denned 
as the will to mount toward spiritual unity, where the 
spirit will be able to perceive pure reality. I believe it 
would be false to overemphasize this influence on Rim- 
baud, as Rolland de Reneville does in his book on Rim- 
baud le Voyant, but it unquestionably exists to some de- 
gree, and might well be called upon to explain the first 
formal and vital pronouncement of the letter. 

Th is pronouncement: Je est un autre C ^Ijts another \ 
self") stands almost at the beginning of the letter aTper- * 
haps the key to the document. Rimbaud follows it by a 
statement which clearly has something to do with the reason 
for the kind of life he has been leading. He says that he has 
been watching the birth of his thought, that he has been 
listening to it, as if his thoughts were rising up from the 
depths of a being different from his own being. ( . . . fas- 
siste a Veclosion de ma pensee: je la regarde, je Vecoute.) 

This phrase, je est un autre, seems to mean that, in addi- 
tion to the every-day familiar self we believe we know be- 
cause we are constantly seeing it act and react, breathe, and 
eat, there is another self which is the real self. In order to 
arrive at this real self, this God-like self we would say if 

50 Age of Surrealism 

we accepted a Pythagorean influence on Rimbaud, we have 
to destroy the familiar self which is after all only fictional. 
This would clearly make out of Rimbaud's doctrine of 
voyance a metaphysical contemplation of the absolute. 

The passage in the letter which begins with: Car je est 
un autre, ends, a page and a half later, on an important 
sentence which, at first sight, appears mysterious. Auteur, 
createur, poete, cet homme n'a jamais existe. But its mean- 
ing may well come from this partially Greek or Platonic 
interpretation of Je est un autre. When Rimbaud writes 
that never did an author, creator, or poet exist, he seems to 
mean, in the light of the preceding part of the letter, that 
the so-called creative or poetic work has come from the 
false self, from the fictional self that we believe in too 
much. We learn to generate words and phrases in a false 
mechanical way, working on them in a stupidly conscious 
manner, and thus equating the creator with the func- 
tionary, the hackwriter, the ''literary" writer. 

When the right moment for the genius comes, he has 
to make himself into a stranger to the land which bore him. 
He has to renounce, in some way or other, the society and 
the family into which he was born and which he never 
chose. This is an important ritual in the myth of the artist, 
and is closely allied, of course, with the ascetic discipline 
of the religious. In harmony with this ritual of alienation, 
the poet, when the right moment comes, has to make him- 
self into a stranger of the language of his people, to the 
familiar language he has always heard and used, and dis- 
cover the other language which exists in the other self, the 
real or the mythic self. This is the language to which he 
awakens, in — and I use here a phrase from Rimbaud's 
letter — "the fullness of the deep dream" (la plenitude du 
grand songe). 

In any study of Rimbaud, and especially of Rimbaud's 
influence on surrealism, the problem of the source of lan- 
guage and the meaning of language is the most important 

Rimbaud 51 

to elucidate as well as the most tenuous and subtle about 
which to state any convictions. The entire movement of ! 
surrealism may one day be considered essentially an ex- I 
periment with language. In order to begin a discussion of 
the doctrine of language, or rather the fragmentary notions 
which Rimbaud and the surrealists proffer concerning lan- 
guage, I should like to quote a line of the surrealist poet, 
Robert Desnos, one of the finest figures of the movement, 
who lost his life in a German "^concentration camp a few 
years ago. This line was recently quoted in an article of 
Louis Aragon, who was a friend of Desnos, and at one time 
an ardent surrealist himself. 

The line reads: Mots, etes-vous des mythes, et pareils aux 
myrthes des mortsf ("Words, are you myths, and similar to 
the myrtle-leaves of the dead?") The line is curiously com- 
posed of four key words, each beginning with m: mots, 
mythes, myrthes, morts, the last three of which — myths, 
myrtle-leaves, dead — serve as elliptical and provocative ex- 
planations for the first term, words. Perhaps the best start- 
ing point in this problem of language would be to re- 
member the sacred importance of words in all the major 
religions of the world. Words, and very often isolated 
words, are the masters and disciplinarians of religious sys- 
tems. According to Genesis, the universe itself came into 
existence by an utterance or a word of God: "And God 
said, Let there be light." Other examples which instantly 
come to mind are: the incantatory power of words in 
prayer, repeated endlessly day after day, Our Father who 
art in heaven; the inviolate power of the words of Holy 
Scripture, which must mean even if they contradict con- 
temporary notions and discoveries; and finally, the tran- 
substantiating power of the central words of the mass: 
This is my body. . . . Lovers usually have a private code: 
phrases or words which evoke for them the deepest part 
of their experience and which one will use to call the other 
back to the proper state of attentiveness. You remember 

52 Age of Surrealism 

the magical words of Swann and Odette in Proust's novel. 
. . . Each one of us has words acquired in childhood, 
which, although they no longer have any meaning for us, 
are permanently lodged in our dreams and subconscious 
states. In the third grade I was taught long passages from 
Longfellow's Hiawatha, and do what I may, I am unable 
to eradicate from my memory the lines: 

On the shores of Gitche-Gumee, 
Of the shining Big-Sea-Water ... 

These words are in me forever, I think, as something al- 
most sacred, even if I do consider them today as an exam- 
ple of bad jingling verse. . . . Other phrases exist in us 
as condensed expressions of our belief and our very life, as 
summarized vocalisms of what we hold to without under- 
standing, and whose very articulation gives to our life a 
fervent resilience: "Though I speak with tongues of men 
and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sound- 
ing brass or a tinkling cymbal." 

To answer the question asked in the line of Robert 
Desnos, we might say that, yes, words are myths. The echo 
of syllables may be so strong in men, that we are perhaps 
more guided by words than by any other single power. 
Slogans convince us politically, and phrases from old songs 
shape us sentimentally. Rimbaud speaks of this power in 
his Saison en Enfer when he evokes the imaginative force- 
fulness in our memory of such words as tavern signs, fairy 
stories, pornographic books, the Latin of the mass; and 
James Joyce does also in Ulysses where the phrase La ci 
darem la mano from Don Giovanni forms an important 
theme. In some of the still lifes of Picasso, words are 
painted in, such as in the painting Ma Jolie, and possess 
an evocative power comparable to that of the color and 
composition of the canvas. 

If words are myths and similar to the myrtle leaves of 

Rimbaud 53 

the dead, we are implying that the words themselves are 
more real than the objects or the ideas which they signify. 
Words then are the reality, and not the things which they 
describe. To create a poem is therefore equivalent to re- 
arranging words, to fixing words in new unaccustomed 
juxtapositions so that they will show different aspects and 
colors of their myth. Rimbaud and the surrealists and 
modern poets in general will not try, in their poems, to 
explain experience. And Picasso, in his paintings, will not 
try to describe experience. They are too humble, or rather 
too despairing of ever understanding so complex and vari- 
able a subject as human experience. All that they are in- 
terested in doing is to show a kaleidoscope view of life, a 
new arrangement of signs, an unexpected set of formations 
which may cast new lights and shadows on life but without 
thereby deciphering it. Words are myths, because they are 
not understandable in any ordinary sense. They are similar 
to the myrtle leaves of the dead, because they do not 
describe or reveal or resurrect the dead, but because they 
symbolize the glory and the achievement of the dead. They 
"remember" the dead, as a leaf fallen from a tree ceases to 
be the tree but remains symbolic and evocative of the tree. 
Poetry is not for Rimbaud, and hence it isn't for the 
surrealists who were his most orthodox disciples, a way of 
knowledge in the ordinary sense of knowledge. But it is 
the way left to us for knowledge about the multiple myths 
of mankind. Myths are, by definition, unknowable, and 
words which communicate the myths are likewise unknow- 


The second theory announced by the 
Lettre du 15 mai concerns what should be the first study 
of the man who wishes to be a poet. Here Rimbaud's 
pedagogic intention becomes clear: the letter is much more 
than a mere communication about poetry to Demeny; it 

54 Age of Surrealism 

is indoctrination by a youth who considers himself, for the 
moment at least, seer and prophet, a kind of poet-Samuel 
who has finally understood the voice speaking to him in 
the darkness. Rimbaud says that the poet must first know 
himself. He must search for his soul, and then examine 
it fearlessly, tempt it and finally know it. Other men may 
be content with learning that they have a soul. The poet 
has to know what his soul is. Man seldom knows how to 
see himself as a complete being. There is an erroneous way 
of knowing oneself, which for Rimbaud is self-deceit, and 
which he defines as being intellectual progress. In this 
erroneous technique we become learned about things not 
ourselves. The new way, advocated by the sixteen year old 
poet, consists in making of one's soul something mon- 
strous. This is the way of the vojant, of the visionary and 
his reasoned derangement of the senses. The derangements 
and monstrosities which are self-revelatory are not un- 
named in this text. Rimbaud lists them: love, suffering, 
madness. One has to know and exhaust the poisons of life 
in order to retain their essence. This is a process familiar 
to medicine whereby we insert poison into a living body 
in order to make the body knowing of poison and hence 
resistant to it. The supreme kind of Savant or knower will 
become that only after he has passed through malady, 
crime, blasphemy. Only then does he reach the Unknown. 
Rimbaud is here talking not about knowledge in the 
encyclopedic or academic sense, but about the knowledge 
of vision, or the surreal. The numberless unseen visions 
which exist in each man may be arrived at by a discipline 
of the senses, which is a derangement. Implicated in this 
theory, very briefly stated in Rimbaud's letter, are all the 
mannerisms and methods of the surrealists: automatism, 
the subconscious, the dream in an awakened state (le reve 
eveille), intoxication, occultisms, the violation of memory, 
paranoiac exaltation. Although far from satisfactory, it is 
probably the most lucid statement about surrealism; and 

Rimbaud 55 

it was made by the young boy of Charleville whom Mal- 
larme appropriately called ce passant considerable. 

The passage unquestionably has something to do with 
the memory of words. It was Bergson, I believe, who said 
that we are not able to have any single perception without 
the aid of memory. We don't learn, in any simple sense; 
we simply remember what we once knew. There seems to 
be a strong relationship between this doctrine of the soul 
and its memory, and the first theory about words and the 
other self. The new order, in the poetic creation, is ex- 
plicitly this: a word engenders a universe, and then our 
ideas try to equal or harmonize with the words. 

This use of language, which is the most revolutionary 
aspect of Rimbaud's doctrine, states that language is not 
a means of knowing, but a means of forgetting ordinary 
knowledge, a means of losing oneself and discovering one's 
monstrous nature. Our ordinary knowledge, acquired by 
what Rimbaud disdainfully calls intellectual progress, 
maintains us within standard forms, inadequate and in- 
sincere regimens of belief and action. The other method, 
that of losing oneself, is fairly comparable to the method of 
incantation in religious practice by means of which one 
arrives at the inexpressible. This is perhaps as close as we 
can come to defining the anarchical method of surrealism. 
The sentence, which heretofore had been the expression of 
logic and order, is now for Rimbaud the new unit for 
delirium. He expects that this new approach to words will 
reanimate worn-out poetic methods. Dadaism, between 
1916 and 1920, practically excluded language, but the sur- 
realists, who succeeded the dadaists, recalled words ban- 
ished by other schools and readapted them provided they 
were magically or mythically used in accordance with this 
doctrine of Rimbaud. 

The important precept of this doctrine or poetic mech- 
anism is, in the creation of a poem, to start with words 
rather than to start with an object or a sentiment or an 

56 Age of Surrealism 

idea. And this rule in surrealism is comparable to the law 
of the three unities in the classical theatre. It is quite as 
tyrannical as the older Aristotelian law. There is an enemy 
to be avoided by surrealists, and that enemy is what we 
usually designate as reality, an object or a conscious expe- 
rience which we falsely and clumsily denominate as "real." 
Rimbaud seems to advocate that we approach words as we 
would magical recipes. They are self-contained myths, and 
not contraposed to the words of history or the words of 
science. They are a unique kind of truthfulness in them- 

The first important poem of Rimbaud, Bateau Ivre, 
which he was to write soon after the letter of the 15th of 
May, illustrates his method as outlined in the two state- 
ments: 1. Je est un autre, and 2. the necessity of becoming 
a voyant and forging a monstrous soul. Bateau Ivre begins 
with this same Je, the self who is going to awaken to the 
surreal part of existence: 

Comme je descendais des Fleuves impassibles. 

From this first line on, in which the self, the Je, is de- 
scribed as a boat going down impassable rivers, the poem 
is a series of brilliantly arranged words which contain the 
incoherence of dreams and the madness of thought. At no 
point in the poem, which contains one hundred lines — 
and this is its most remarkable aspect — is there any use of 
language which is not mythical. At no moment in the 
poem is the imagination forced into familiar and recog- 
nizable patterns. One has only to read the first stanza to 
realize that the key words are not from the real world of 
Rimbaud, of the town of Charleville on the Meuse River. 

Comme Je descendais des Fleuves impassibles, 

Je ne me sentis plus guide par les haleurs: 

Des Peaux-Rouges criards les avaient pris pour cibles, 

Les ayant cloues nus aux poteaux de couleurs. 

Rimbaud 57 

No longer borne down impassable rivers, 
I tracked the canal to the whim of the haulers: 
Naked and spitted to barbarous totems, 
The Indian yelpers had claimed them for targets. 

(translated by Ben Belitt) 

The rivers of the poem are passive and tremendous, scorn- 
ful of suffering and frustration. The men on the banks are 
Indians who nail the boat's haulers naked to totem poles. 

These words are thrown out as if they came from a 
dream. The words themselves: Fleuves, Peaux-Rouges, 
poteaux de couleurs, are going to engender the poem. 
They are going to explode in a series of images, each 
bolder and more colorful than the last. The drunken boat, 
the Je of the poem, which explicates the Je est un autre 
of the letter, is no mere symbol of Rimbaud the boy and 
the poet, eager to escape from the oppressiveness of Charle- 
ville and the maternal tyranny. It is the self engaging in 
unknown, mythic experiences. 77 arrive a I'inconnu, the 
letter states. It is not only the primitive innocency of child- 
hood, the verts paradis of Baudelaire, the memory of those 
places we know as a child although we never physically 
visited them. The scenes visited by Rimbaud's boat, as 
well as those visited by Lautreamont's Maldoror, are do- 
mains seen and conquered by a very special poetic method 
and talent. They come into being as a ransom for the 
artist's sensitivity and suffering and solitude. 

We are accustomed to associating the poet or the painter 
with the craftsman, the man who has mastered a certain 
technique. And now, in accordance with Rimbaud's doc- 
trine, we have to associate him additionally with Pyg- 
malion. A craftsman is able to compose a poem, but only 
a Pygmalion, that is, a sorcerer or a magician, is able to 
call the image to life. The surrealist poet will have to be 
a combination of a poet, in the Greek sense — of a man 
inspired or possessed — and a maker of images in the prim- 
itive sense who effects thereby a magical change. We re- 

58 Age of Surrealism 

member that the rules of magic, for the most part, involve 
a special use of words, a practice of incantation, and that 
the actual words thus used have in many cases no recog- 
nizable meaning. But these words, when submitted to a 
patient and systematic method, work miracles: the sick are 
cured, the warrior is emboldened, the child ushered into 
the state of manhood. Every major event of existence — 
babyhood, the games of childhood, religious practice, love, 
death — are all carried out and consecrated by a use of lan- 

Rimbaud's method of poetry, if it is at all clear by these 
remarks, is not only a very lofty experience, but it is a 
perilous one as well. It exacts so much destruction, of 
order and conventionalities, of familiar patterns, and of 
rules which had seemed indispensable disciplines, that it 
risks making of the poet a despiser of order, an anarchist 
in temperament and technique. Rimbaud's ambition is 
clearly marked in the way and the wake of the Drunken 
Boat, which is quite literally a divorce from the real world. 
I call this way perilous, because it opens the gates to all 
kinds of charlatans, of undisciplined writers, of false vision- 
aries. Many weak and ineffectual surrealists have claimed 
relationships with Rimbaud and have tried to legitimatize 
their work by appeal to his doctrine. They are examples 
of artists who, heirs of a dangerous technique, bore false 
testimony to a poetic method because they never possessed 
the passion of Rimbaud's soul, nor the inner structure and 
discipline of his human experience. 

In the wake of the Drunken Boat, poetry became an 
extreme experience in spirituality, so extreme, in fact, that 
some theorists believe that it will replace for modern man, 
unable to believe as men of other ages have, the religious 
experience. My personal reaction to this theory is that 
poetry, rather than replacing religion, will disappear if 
religious belief disappears. The two experiences are re- 

Rimbaud 59 

lated: the religious experience the greater; the poetic expe- 
rience the lesser. 

Rimbaud's Bateau Ivre is at the confluence of modern 
poetic rhetoric, as the poem on the subconscious memory, 
on the other self of man, the unknown self. It is a poem of 
poles and zones, of tropical flowers, of maelstroms and sea 
monsters, of a great opening out to the beyond. That open- 
ing outward, filled with peril and silence, is the action of 
the unknown self of the poet. As the opening out to the un- 
known is the most delirious goal of the surrealist poet, so 
the opening out to the Absolute or to God is the most 
delirious goal of the mystic. Poetic belief is concerned with 
the unknown or the surreal, and religious belief is con- 
cerned with the unknown or the supernatural. 

These beliefs converge, however, in the goal of both 
experiences, which is the discovery of unity. Both are op- 
posed to conformity. The purity of the instincts in both 
poet and mystic urges them away from convention, which 
always means a separation of self from unity and oneness. 
The poet Rimbaud believes that the unity of the world has 
a perfect counterpart in the unity of each individual be- 
ing. To attain to this unity of being is therefore to attain 
to the unity of the world. The poem — and we see this 
poignantly articulated in such a poem as Bateau Ivre — 
establishes the symmetry between the two structures of the 
world and the spirit. The word of the poet, then, creates 
the world of his spirit, as, on another level and in accord 
with another but related belief, the word of God created 
the world of matter. 


In his letter, after defining the other self 
of the poet, Je est un autre, and after defining the method 
of the visionary, faire Vdme monstrueuse , and the vision- 
ary's voyage into the realm of the unknown, Rimbaud ex- 
plains a third part of the poetic experience. This has to do 

60 Age of Surrealism 

with what the poet brings back with him from the un- 
known, or from the source to which he gained access by 
means of sensuous derangements. Rimbaud says that if 
what he brings back has form, he gives it form. (Si ce qu'il 
rapporte de la-bas a forme, il donne forme) But if orig- 
inally, at the source, it had no form, he gives to it a form- 
lessness. (Si c'est informe, il donne de Vinforme.) This 
important passage seems to be concerned with the integrity 
of the poetic experience. The poet is the translator of his 
own truth, of what has been vouchsafed to him from uni- 
versal truth and universal language. 

In the letter of May 15th, Rimbaud explains the man- 
ner in which to read his future work. Une Saison en Enfer 
is a work of legend, in which Rimbaud consummated a 
precious and irrevocable break with verbalisms. After de- 
scribing his method at the age of sixteen, he illustrated 
it in the writing he accomplished during the next two 
years, and went so far in his own method that he couldn't 
continue farther. This is one way, perhaps not possible to 
authenticate, to explain why Rimbaud ceased writing at 
the age of nineteen. The miracle is that at his age, which 
is generally a flamboyant highly imitative age for writers, 
he wrote, not a literary work, but a legend, the myth of 
himself. The word itself, season, which is the title of his 
last work, is a mythic word, impossible to define with any 
scientific or linguistic accuracy. It seems quite appropriate 
that the artist should have disappeared behind this myth. 

Rimbaud was followed by two sets of hagiographers, two 
sets of critics who have tried to claim and explain accord- 
ing to their own beliefs this Season in Hell. The Catholics 
are the first group, who, despite the exigencies and seem- 
ing narrowness of their dogma, have written the most bril- 
liantly and profoundly about Rimbaud. The second group 
of exegetes is the surrealists, both the strict surrealists and 
those who approach Rimbaud as essentially a surrealist 
writer. Among the Catholic critics, Claudel, one of the 

Rimbaud 61 

very first, called Rimbaud a mystic in a savage state (un 
mystique a Vetat sauvage); Mauriac called him the cru- 
cified man in spite of himself (le crucifie malgre lui); 
Riviere went so far as to call him the being exempt from 
original sin (I'etre exempt de peche originel). This last 
interpretation, no matter how one comes to it, either lit- 
erally or metaphorically, is, I believe, the most illuminat- 
ing critical statement ever made about Rimbaud. Surrealist 
doctrine is of course infinitely more difficult to articulate 
or even to discover than Catholic dogma, and the surreal- 
ists seem to have reproached Rimbaud for only one thing 
(they addressed this same reproach simultaneously to Bau- 
delaire): for having made possible in their writing and in 
certain acts of their lives a religious explanation. 

The Catholic thesis stresses the evolution in Rimbaud 
from heroism to holiness, and the surrealist thesis stresses 
the importance accorded the subconscious. But Rimbaud 
is beyond any one explanation, and the most penetrating 
critics, both Catholic and surrealist, would accept this. As 
a living poet, between the ages of sixteen and nineteen, he 
rebelled against everything. Today his work is rebellious 
and recalcitrant against any labeling, against any limited 
categorizing. Critics of all schools, and readers of all ages 
agree that the human drama contained in Rimbaud is of 
an unequaled intensity. 

The mystically inclined, who see Rimbaud essentially as 
a prophet, are struck by the theme of general menace 
which pervades much of his writing: wars, invasions, de- 
struction, deluge, cataclysms. The surrealistically inclined 
read in Rimbaud a testimonial to the personal pride of the 
poet as magician, to the renewed myth of Babel and lan- 
guage, of Titans and of Prometheus, the stealer of divine 
fire. The Catholically minded are struck by Rimbaud's 
consciousness of good and evil, and place him in company 
with Pascal, Blake, and Baudelaire. I say good and evil, 
but I might easily have given their impermanent but con- 

62 Age of Surrealism 

temporary equivalents of love and madness. With mad- 
ness, in our present world, usurping first place. The sur- 
realists believe that the world is led by those whom the 
world calls insane: Nerval, Holderlin, Baudelaire, Lau- 
treamont, Dostoievski, Kafka, by all those who have deep 
memory of time before history. 

In the penultimate passage of Une Saison en Enfer, the 
brief section called Matin, which Rimbaud wrote in Au- 
gust, 1873, when he was staying at his mother's farm at 
Roche, on a wind-swept monotonous plateau, he speaks 
of his ever-present restlessness and need to be off: Quand 
irons-nous par dela les greves et les montsf And then he 
speaks, in the mysterious prophetic vein so characteristic 
of his work, of the two sets of readers who are going to 
explain his work. To the Catholics, first, he says, Tdchez 
de raconter ma chute ("Try to tell of my fall"); and to 
the surrealists, next, he says, Tdchez de raconter mon som- 
meil ("Try to tell of my sleep"). And then he signs off, as 
if for all other readers: Je ne sais plus parler ("I don't 
know how to speak"). 

Each age is reflected in its poetry. The profoundest study 
of civilization is in the secret correspondences between life 
and poetry. Rimbaud may be studied as the poet who turns 
his back on the city, the poet whose poem is about exotic 
marine landscapes and whose season is spent in hell, and 
who thereby explains his age of separation, of exile, of 
schizophrenia. He revived the myth of the strangest of all 
exiles, that taking place within words. Rimbaud's exile in 
words, in the myths protected by words, as the myrtle 
leaves protect the dead, will culminate in the prolonged 
exile in words of Finnegans Wake. 

IV • MALLARME: the myth (Herodiade) 


On no poem, more than on Herodiade, 
did Mallarme expend time, anguish and painstaking care. 
The poem, or rather the character who gives her name to 
the poem, was a kind of perpetual muse for the poet. He 
returned to her intermittently, as to an old fidelity, or at 
best, as to a well-loved habit, during more than thirty 
years. Mallarme composed Herodiade at the beginning of 
his career, soon after he arrived in the city of Tournon 
where he occupied his first post as school teacher. At the 
time of his death, at Valvins, on the Seine, where he spent 
so many summers, the manuscript of Herodiade was open 
on his desk and gave evidence to the fact that it was among 
his last preoccupations. 

Mallarme arrived at Tournon in November, 1863, at the 
age of twenty-one. The following year, in October, 1864, 
he announced in a letter that he had begun work on Hero- 
diade. And he spoke immediately of the terror which this 
enterprise inspired in him, a terror which seemed to spring 
from the conviction that the language of the new poem 
must necessarily come from a new poetics. He attempted in 
this passage of the letter to give a definition of this poetic 

64 Age of Surrealism 

theory: peindre, non la chose, mais I'effet qu'elle produit. 
("To paint, not the thing, but the effect that it produces.") 
This sentence, used by Mallarme to describe the new writ- 
ing of Herodiade, has served more than almost any other 
definition, to summarize the art of symbolism, and espe- 
cially that aspect of symbolism developed by Mallarme. 
Thirty-four years later, in a letter written in May, 1898, 
the year of his death, he described a day of work and in 
referring to Herodiade, put the matter in the future tense, 
by saying that the poem will come about gradually and 
that he is somewhat in possession of himself. {Herodiade 
ira lentement, mais ira, je me posse de un peu.) 

Herodiade is not simply an early poem which Mallarme 
recast at the end of his life. It is a poem he lived with or 
rather struggled with all his life, and it illustrates perhaps 
better than any other piece Mallarme's intense love for a 
poem and the desperate difficulty he underwent in achiev- 
ing it, in finding for it a form or expression suitable to 
translate the idea. On one level of interpretation, Hero- 
diade is a cold virginal princess who stands aloof from the 
world of men, but she may also represent the poem itself, 
so difficult to seize and possess that the poet ultimately 
despairs of knowing it. Herodiade is therefore both a char- 
acter whom Mallarme tried to subdue, and a mythical 
character whose meaning goes far beyond the comprehen- 
sion of the poet. She presided over Mallarme's life as poet 
in a dual role of princess and myth, of character and 

Herodiade was the poem of Mallarme's winters. The 
three years spent at Tournon were among the most pain- 
ful, in terms of material discomfort, of the poet's life. But 
they were also the most fruitful in terms of poetic creative- 
ness. His correspondence of the latter part of 1864 is re- 
plete with references to Herodiade, but when the winter 
is over, he abandons work on it for another new poem, 
more suitable for spring and summer, on the theme of a 

Mallarm£ 65 

faun, which ultimately is to be called L'Apres-Midi d'un 
Faune. It is significant that the three major poems of this 
period: L'Azur (written possibly before Mallarm^ came to 
Tournon), L'Apres-Midi d'un Faune, and Herodiade, all 
composed during the most abundantly productive years 
of his career, deal with the same theme of artistic sterility. 
Whether it be the cold bejeweled princess of the winters 
or the lascivious faun of mid-summer, Mallarme is essen- 
tially preoccupied with the problem of fertility and birth, 
with the staggering impossibility of achieving the perfect 
birth of a poem. No poet, I suppose, has ever been made 
so completely a. prisoner of his own poem as Mallarme. 
He became so much a part of the poem that he was always 
fearful of being unable to project it outside of himself. 
Mallarme's love for his own creation tended to obstruct 
and obscure any articulation he might give to his love. 
Mallarme as a poet was in a certain sense the kind of lover 
who converts the beloved into a mystery and whose silence 
is adoration. 

Mallarme's life-long preoccupation with Herodiade is 
significant not only for an understanding of his own 
poems, but also for the much wider context of modern 
literature, especially for the entire movement of symbolism 
and the so-called decadent literature of the latter 19th cen- 
tury, and for surrealism in the 20th century. Mallarme's 
princess Herodiade has an extensive literary genealogy. 
The year that he began the composition of Herodiade, 
1864, he discovered Flaubert's novel Salammbo, which was 
first published in 1862. Salammbo and Herodiade have the 
same characteristics of aloofness. Their beauty is mysteri- 
ous and hermetic. It is shattered or would be shattered by 
marriage. Midway between the early version of Herodiade 
and Mallarme's death, Villiers de 1' Isle-Adam, a close 
friend of Mallarme, published in 1885-86 his symbolist 
drama Axel, whose leading character Sara bears an inti- 
mate affinity with Herodiade. Sara's death is consummated 

66 Age of Surrealism 

in a blaze of jewels and she wills her own death at the 
moment of marriage when she is on the verge of happiness, 
because she, like Herodiade, is a soul seeking to escape 
from the state of becoming. She, like Herodiade, and 
like Herodiade's most recent descendant, Valery's Jeune 
Parque, is a young girl of a philosophical turn of mind, 
who is anxious to attain the preferable state of being, even 
if being takes on for her the form of death. 

The principal thought on which Mallarme's poem seems 
to depend is that expressed at the beginning of the dia- 
logue between Herodiade and her nurse: the thought that 
beauty is death. This doctrine, expounded in its most psy- 
chological form in Mallarme's Herodiade, is the culmina- 
tion of a century of philosophical inquiry, which is usually 
denned as pessimism. When the beauty of woman, such as 
Herodiade's is cold and inaccessible, it summarizes the 
void of life and hence translates a philosophical concept. 
The splendor and magnificence of Herodiade's appearance, 
as well as Salammbo's in Flaubert's novel, and Sara's in the 
play Axel, symbolize sterility. 

This feeling about the void of life is apparent in the 
very early manifestations of what we call today the roman- 
tic movement in Western Europe. Examples are numer- 
ous: at the end of the 18th century, the suicide of the 
young English poet Chatterton, and Goethe's early novel 
Werther; in the first years of the 19th century, Chateau- 
briand's stories which not only express pessimism about 
life but also give some of the first illustrations of the lonely 
and hence sterile beauty of woman. The cosmos, felt as a 
flux and as an eternal movement in each individual soul 
who seeks to find stability somewhere else, usually in death, 
is the subject matter of much of the writings of Nerval, 
Baudelaire, Flaubert, Rimbaud, Mallarme, and the sur- 

The poem Herodiade, a creation of a poet, bears of 
course a strong relationship to the poet, but its theme 

Mallarm£ 67 

comes not only from Mallarme but from many of the poets 
and thinkers who preceded him. As a human being the 
princess Herodiade opposes the flow and the change of life 
by her studied and concentrated frigidity. Her opposition 
to normal life and vicissitude is the projection of the myth- 
ical role of poet which Mallarme believed in and practised, 
of which there exist examples before him in the 19th cen- 
tury and which the surrealists will reenact in the 20th 
century. I refer to the magical property of the poet, to his 
function of hierophant, of priest and miracle worker. The 
poet feels all the cosmic vibrations and changes of the 
world, but establishes outside of them, by means of his art, 
which is the alchemy of language, a reality which by its 
durability is a denial of flux and change. 

The word magical as applied to an artistic creation seems 
startlingly new in the 19th century. The poet holds the 
secrets of his creation. He is the new dealer in occultism 
or hermeticism. Hugo considered himself the echo sonore 
of a world not heard by ordinary ears, of a supernatural 
world not submitted to the logic of a changing world. For 
Mallarme, and, to a lesser degree, for other poets of the 
century, there is a point where poetry passes into the realm 
of the unexpressed. In Herodiade he seems to leave poetry 
just on this side of that point. But in Mallarme's final 
poem, Un coup de des, it is quite possible that he takes 
poetry over into the realm of the unexpressed or the inef- 
fable and hence creates in a very absolute sense a surrealist 
poem. But the method and principle of surrealism may be 
more easily studied and apprehended in such a poem as 

In considering the main function of the poet as that of 
magician or symbol-maker, Mallarme was giving to the 
symbol an occult power very close to the mystical power 
of the Word or the Logos. Baudelaire in his doctrine of 
Correspondances had stressed the spiritual reality of the 
physical world and hence the spiritual reality of the sym- 

68 Age of Surrealism 

bol. In this doctrine, Baudelaire was perpetuating the les- 
sons of Swedenborg's Arcana Coelestina. Novalis also had 
taught that the poet sees the invisible and feels the supra- 

This definition of the poet's function, which has some- 
time been called angelism, because in it the poet withholds 
his secrets, places him in a category comparable to that of 
the priest, and therefore to the type of individual who is 
isolated from society, who serves society in his isolation, in 
his hieratic calling. Nietzsche has said that all poetry is 
originally hieratic. 

Thus poetry becomes one of those activities of the hu- 
man mind whose nature and purpose are spiritual. The 
poet finds himself, by the mystery of his vocation, the 
guardian of creative secrets, in much the same way that 
Herodiade wills to make herself into the guardian of her 
own being. The man who is engaged in the alchemy of his 
own language, like the princess who is engaged in the be- 
numbing of her senses and emotions, is a poet not only in 
the creation of his own world, but in the creation of his 
own divinity as well. The poet in this sense is both priest 
and god. Here culminate the romantic dream and the ro- 
mantic temperament. Rousseau had once described this 
quietistic state of being when nothing exterior to self 
exists, when one is sufficient unto oneself as God is. The 
modern poet has revindicated his ancient role of Prome- 
theus and Orpheus, of fire-stealer and mystical singer. He 
learned once again, during the century that was copiously 
consecrated to the definition of the philosophy of science, 
the meaning of divine madness which Plato had once used 
in characterizing the poet. 

Poetry's esoteric principle was explored by Stephane 
Mallarme and incarnated in his princess Herodiade. The 
three leading aspects of this principle, angelism, hermeti- 
cism, and narcissism, are also the three leading characteris- 
tics of the princess. Angelism seems to signify that the poet 

Mallarm£ 69 

creates his own world and lives within it. This would cor- 
respond to H£rodiade's desertion of the world, her return 
to the tower, and her isolated existence. Hermeticism is 
on the one hand the secret meaning of poetry, jealously 
guarded by the poet, and on the other hand the magical 
practices of Herodiade or even the ritualistic manner of 
her life. Finally, narcissism, by far the most significant and 
most obscure of the three aspects of the esoteric principle, 
is a required attitude of every poet who is himself the sub- 
ject of his poetry, and is revealed in Herodiade's words 
addressed to her mirror. 


The poem, as it appears in the most 
recent editions of Mallarme's work, is in three parts: an 
overture, Ouverture Ancienne; a dialogue between Hero- 
diade and her nurse, called Scene, which is the main part 
of the poem; and a short detached lyric spoken by St. John 
the Baptist, called Cantique de saint Jean. 

The overture was written after the first version of the 
dialogue, during the years 1865-66, when Mallarme was 
still in Tournon, but it was never published during the 
lifetime of the poet. The poem, which is ninety-six lines 
in length, remained among his papers and manuscripts 
until long after his death when his son-in-law and literary 
executor, Dr. E. Bonniot, published it in the Nouvelle 
Revue Frangaise, in November, 1926. The entire piece is 
spoken by the nurse as a kind of incantation. It serves to 
set the scene for the subsequent dialogue. The nurse talks 
about what she sees from the tower. First, the landscape, 
which is desolate under a dawn now abolished. Abolie is 
the first word of the poem. It had been used previously in 
the hermetic poetry of Gerard de Nerval, and was to be 
used by Mallarme in seven important passages. The dawn, 
once golden and red, is now abolished or pallid, and has 
chosen for its tomb the tower where the nurse awaits the 

70 Age of Surrealism 

return of Herodiade. There is the suggestion that the 
tower had been used by Herodiade for propitiatory or 
occult practices, and its present abandonment has spread 
to the autumnal scene of the landscape. The room and the 
bed appear empty to the nurse. She wonders if the voice 
she hears is her own or the empty echo of some voice of 
the past. Everything is funereal and tenebrific and monot- 
onous. The nurse refers to the young girl exiled in her 
precious heart — an early very direct allusion to Herodi- 
ade's narcissism — but especially accumulates words of an 
esoteric import: prophecy, dreams, stars, books of magic. 
The dominant theme is the emptiness of the present. The 
setting and the repetition of certain words are reminiscent 
of Poe. The mood is built up for the strange dialogue 
which follows. 

The cry of the nurse announces the return of Hero- 
diade. The older woman bends down to kiss the rings of 
the princess, but Herodiade, who is to spurn everything, 
wards her off. In order to explain why a kiss would kill 
her, she speaks instantly of her blond hair which, immacu- 
late, is the symbol of her immortality. In its fire and light, 
her hair is opposed to the principle of her cold body. She 
has just come in from a morning whose splendor is now 
dying (this theme was announced in the Ouverture), in 
order to be again with her nurse of the winters (6 nourrice 
d'hiver). She had been able to walk among the lions un- 
harmed (according to legend they are respectful of virgins) 
as if they had represented the dangers of the outer world 
or the menaces to the integrity of her being. The reminis- 
cences of the world, which she has left, are not in herself 
but in her hair which she asks the nurse to comb indolently 
before a mirror: 


A me peigner nonchalamment dans un miroir. 

Mallarm£ 71 

Her hair imitates the wild manes of the lions and the bril- 
liantly jeweled light of the sun. The beauty and violence 
of the world have left her intact, but they have been re- 
flected in her hair. She rejects all perfumes because she 
wishes her hair to resemble not flowers nor the languish- 
ing odor of flowers, but gold and the sterile coldness of 
metals. As a young child her hair reflected the iron weap- 
ons and bronze vases of the tower, and now as a virgin prin- 
cess it must reflect the light of precious gold and jewels. 

When the nurse holds up the mirror before her, Hero- 
diade's actual words addressed to it are very brief, but their 
meaning pervades the rest of the poem. Deep in the mir- 
ror, as in a black hole, she has searched hours on end for 
her memories and appeared to herself as a distant ghost. 
On certain evenings, when the mirror resembled an im- 
placable fountain (at this point it is obvious that the myth 
of Herodiade is joining with the myth of Narcissus), she 
realized the bareness or the reality of her dream: J'ai de 
mon reve epars connu la nudite! Here she interrupts her 
speech by asking the nurse if she is beautiful. The nurse 
compares Herodiade to a star, but when she extends her 
hand to raise up part of the princess' hair which is fall- 
ing, Herodiade turns violently on the woman and accuses 
her of sacrilege in trying to touch her. This is the third 
crime the nurse has almost committed: first, the kiss on the 
hand and rings; second, the offering of the perfume; and 
finally the attempt to touch Herodiade's hair. For the prin- 
cess these constitute three forebodings of disaster for this 
day in the tower. 

The second part of the scene begins when the nurse in- 
sinuates that Herodiade must be waiting for some hero, 
that she must be reserving her being and her purity for 
some man. Herodiade's answer to this insinuation, which 
is an ironical hope of the old nurse, constitutes the longest 
speech of the scene. It is a kind of aria in three parts con- 

72 Age of Surrealism 

taining the psychological explanation of her life and voca- 
tion. It begins like an aria with a line of strong narcissistic 

Oui, c'est pour moi, pour moi que je fleuris, deserte! All 
the themes, heretofore partially announced, are now com- 
mingled and made specific in this aria, which Herodiade 
sings not merely to the nurse, but to the world, or at least 
to the public in the theatre where she is performing the 
scene. Mallarme's initial project was to compose a play on 
the theme of Herodiade and in this monologue there is 
something of the rhetoric of the theatre. This element of 
drama was strong enough to permit Martha Graham to 
compose a dance on the poem and the composer Paul Hin- 
demith to write a musical setting which follows closely 
each line of the poem. 

Herodiade is flowering for herself, not in the usual kind 
of garden, but in a garden of amethysts and precious 
stones. Her beauty is like the hidden beauty of jewels deep 
in the earth which contain the ancient secrets of the world. 
The first part of the aria describes the beauty of Hero- 
diade's eyes and hair as essentially a sterile beauty. Her 
eyes are like pure jewels and her hair is fatal and massive 
because it reflects the color of metal. Jewels and metal, 
originally buried in the earth, are as sterile and useless as 
the eyes and hair of Herodiade concealed in her tower 
away from the world of men. 

Oui, c'est pour moi, pour moi, que je fleuris, deserte! 

Vous le savez, jardins d'am^thyste, enfouis 

Sans fin dans de savants abimes eblouis, 

Ors ignores, gardant votre antique lumiere 

Sous le sombre sommeil d'une terre premiere, 

Vous pierres ou mes yeux comme de purs bijoux 

Empruntent leur clart£ melodieuse, et vous 

Metaux qui donnez a ma jeune chevelure 

Une splendeur fatale et sa massive allurel 

Quant a toi, femme nde en des siecles malins 

Mallarm£ 73 

Pour la m^chancete des antres sibyllins, 
Qui paries d'un mortel! selon qui, des calices 
De mes robes, arome aux farouches d&ices, 
Sortirait le frisson blanc de ma nudite\ 
Prophase que si le tiede azur d'^te, 
Vers qui nativement la femme se d^voile, 
Me voit dans ma pudeur grelottante d'^toile, 
Je meurs! 

Yes, it is for me, for me, that I flower, alone I 

You know it, amethyst gardens, buried 

Endlessly in learned dazzling abysses, 

Hidden golds, keeping your ancient light 

Under the sombre sleep of a primordial earth, 

You stones wherein my eyes like pure jewels 

Borrow their melodious light, and you 

Metals which give to my young hair 

A fatal splendor and its massive form! 

As for you, woman born in wicked centuries 

For the evil of sibylline caves, 

Who speak of a mortal! according to whom, from the 

Of my robes, aroma of fierce delights, 
Would come forth the white trembling of my nakedness, 
Prophesy that if the mild azure of summer, 
Toward which natively woman uncovers herself, 
Sees me in my shivering shame of a star, 
I die! 

The awesomeness of Herodiade's virginity is the theme 
of the second part. Her chastity burns with the same pallor 
that the snow casts against the night outside. 

J'aime l'horreur d'etre vierge et je veux 
Vivre parmi l'efrroi que me font mes cheveux 
Pour le soir, retiree en ma couche, reptile 
Inviole sentir en la chair inutile 
Le froid scintillement de ta pale clarte 
Toi qui te meurs, toi qui brules de chastete, 
Nuit blanche de glacons et de neige cruelle! 

74 Age of Surrealism 

I love the horror of being virgin and I wish 
To live in the terror which my hair gives me 
So that at evening, lying on my bed, inviolate 
Reptile, I may feel in my vain flesh 
The cold scintillation of your pale light, 
You who die, you who burn with chastity, 
White night of icicles and cruel snow! 

The night, which is cold and dead, is called the eternal 
sister of Herodiade. 

Et ta soeur solitaire, 6 ma soeur eternelle 
Mon reve montera vers toi: telle deja 
Rare limpidite d'un coeur qui le songea, 
Je me crois seule en ma monotone patrie 
Et tout, autour de moi, vit dans l'idolatrie 
D'un miroir qui reflete en son calme dormant 
Herodiade au clair regard de diamant . . , 

charme dernier, oui! je le sens, je suis seule. 

And your solitary sister, O my eternal sister 
My dream will mount toward you: such already 
Rare lucidity of a heart which dreamed it, 

1 believed myself alone in my monotonous kingdom 
And everything around me lives in the idolatry 

Of a mirror which reflects in its sleeping calm 
Herodiade with her clear diamond gaze . . . 
O last charm, yes! I feel it, I am alone . . . 

This is the third and last movement of the song in which 
a fusion takes place between the sterile night and the ster- 
ile image of Herodiade in the mirror. The poem at this 
point reaches culmination in its inner action whereby 
Herodiade attains to a oneness of being, to a vain state of 
beauty in her monotonous kingdom. 

It is narcissism pushed one degree farther than the limit 
which Narcissus reached. Whereas the adolescent in the 
Greek myth was content with watching in the mirror- 
fountain the reflection of himself and in the reflected traits 

Mallarm£ 75 

the world he loved and the being with whom he wanted 
to unite himself, Herodiade represents the other sex, the 
narcissism of woman. She seeks to establish not merely soli- 
tude and her reflection in a mirror, but an absorption of 
her being (of her beauty and her chastity) with the mate- 
rial world. In order to know the secret of existence, she 
wants to be as closely absorbed in the cosmos as the dia- 
mond is one with the earth in which it is embedded. 

Every theme in Herodiade represents some aspect of 
night: the literal fall of night outside the tower which 
covers the monotonous landscape of approaching winter; 
the night inside the tower; the night of necromancy and 
dark magical rites; the perpetual night inside the earth 
where the jewels and the metals sleep; the night of the 
mirror which is like a black hole into which Herodiade 
looks in order to see all the remembered and forgotten 
memories of her life; and the final night of the reflection 
in which Herodiade's being becomes useless and sterile. 

From these various aspects of the night theme we are 
led to realize that the poem of Mallarme involves a vaster 
and more profound myth than the simple story of Narcis- 
sus. It might be called the myth of self-destruction which 
lies at the core of every human being and which the prin- 
ciple of life and the principle of religious belief are con- 
stantly trying to submerge or conquer or forget. The myth 
of self-destruction is more closely associated with us than 
we willingly acknowledge. It seems to be an important ele- 
ment of many of the so-called principles of life, such as 
birth, love, love of God, artistic creation. In order to ac- 
complish anything, we have to destroy ourselves to some 
degree. Herodiade, which we are considering a mythical 
poem, is a symbolic or even choreographic expression of 
an impulse which is deeply and natively human. Mal- 
larme's princess wills to become an image of herself, un- 
real and untouched, as each man wills, in his solitude of 

76 Age of Surrealism 

sleep or love or work or prayer, to become more one with 
the principle of his being, more harmoniously or inti- 
mately himself. 

What we have called the principle of self-destruction in 
the poem Hirodiade might justifiably be named the prin- 
ciple of transformation or metamorphosis. The eyes and 
hair of Hirodiade are not only compared with jewels and 
metals but also seem to be converted into the inert mate- 
rial world. One remembers the suicides in Dante's Inferno, 
canto 13, whose bodies have been metamorphosed into tree 
trunks and one may well be struck by the analogy between 
He'rodiade's desire for material immobilization and the 
Dantean punishment accorded to the sin of suicide. Once 
in the Mallarme* poem Hirodiade compares herself with 
an inviolate reptile (v. 105-106). This is a further allusion 
to transformation which also has its counterpart in the 
Inferno, in the circle where thieves are punished by hav- 
ing their bodies changed into snakes or fused with the 
body of a snake. 

If the deepest aspect of this will or action on the part of 
Herodiade is self-destruction, a more immediate aspect is 
the desire to know oneself and the world, to know the 
unity of self and the world. During the past one hundred 
years, and even slightly more if we include works of prose, 
poetry has been submitted to a philosophical use. The ro- 
mantic period in the first half of the 19th century, the 
symbolist period in the second half of the 19th century 
(at the beginning of which Herodiade sets the decor and 
introduces the principal vocabulary), and the surrealist 
period in the 20th century, might easily be considered as 
one literary period or one artistic movement characterized 
and unified by a unique philosophical preoccupation. 
Herodiade stands therefore midway between the Corre- 
spondances of Baudelaire and the activities of the surreal- 
ists in the 1920's and 1930's when experimentation is 
pushed very far in studying the relationships between man 

Mallarm£ 77 

and the material world, when the figure of man and ob- 
jects in the purely material world are commingled in 
dreams and artistic creations. In the surrealist period the 
meaning of man and of his existence is deliberately con- 
fused with the meaning of art. Never was so much de- 
manded of art and poetry, in terms of knowledge and 
philosophy, as in the surrealist period. Herodiade stands 
as a figure on the threshold of surrealism. The poem is an 
initiation not so much to the methods of surrealism as to 
the goal of surrealism. We have seen Mallarme's princess 
partaking of the material and the spiritual worlds, joining 
them, and thus explaining them and the unity which binds 
them. The action of Herodiade does not merely involve a 
fusing of subjective and objective elements, but much 
more than that, an attainment to surreality, in a literal 
sense. She enters a domain above or apart from the real 


No such figure as Herodiade can exist 
alone. She must have ancestors and descendants. When 
related to them, she loses some of her enigmatical charac- 
ter. She is not fully explained by them (no mythical figure 
is ever fully recognizable) but they help to localize and 
situate her in relation to our own changing world and our 
paltry understanding of it. Her immediate ancestors are 
women created by the romantic temperament and by 
romantic artists, and her descendants are to be found in the 
works of the surrealists: in books like Naja of Andre 
Breton and in certain paintings of women by Picasso. 

A first clue to Herodiade's ancestors might be in the 
romantic equation of beauty and death. We saw how 
Herodiade and night were fused as sisters in Mallarme's 
poem. Beauty and death would be the equivalent abstrac- 
tions used constantly by the romantics, or at least, on a 
more elementary level, beauty and sadness. It is quite 

78 Age of Surrealism 

possible that in the myth of woman the most important 
factor is the proximity or simultaneity of beauty and sad- 
ness. Beauty of woman is real for man only when it is 
imperiled, threatened with dissolution. The sentiment 
of the beautiful generates immediately the sentiment of 
melancholy. Chateaubriand has taught us that when we 
look at nature, at an exotic landscape, we experience both 
exaltation and melancholy. As pleasure and pain are in- 
separable, so any intense knowledge of the beautiful is syn- 
thesized with a knowledge of suffering. In many poems of 
Baudelaire, such as Hymne a la Beaute, and throughout his 
personal journals, we read of the inevitable commingling 
of voluptuousness and sadness. 

The implacable cold beauty and virginal aloofness of 
Flaubert's Salammbo and Mallarme's Herodiade would not 
have been celebrated soon after 1860 if this type of woman- 
goddess had not been preceded by the type of fatal or per- 
secuted woman. The Medusa head is an example of beauty 
allied with the repulsive, and there persists an element of 
the Medusan beauty in the countless examples of beauty 
allied with physical suffering and torture in the late 18th 
century and early 19th century heroines. Examples might 
be chosen from both good and bad literature, and from all 
countries: Gretchen in Goethe's Faust, Atala in Chateau- 
briand's novel, Antonia and Agnes in Lewis' novel The 
Monk, Mrs. Ann Radcliffe's tales of terror, especially The 
Italian, the Marquis de Sade's stories, such as Juliette and 
Justine, where voluptuousness is achieved in scenes of 
crime and destruction. 

This theme of crime and perversion, associated with love 
and the beauty of woman, is not only an important back- 
ground for such a poem as Herodiade, but it is also a 
theme renewed and recapitulated by the surrealists, al- 
though not perhaps in their major works. In fact, what has 
been called the attraction of the horrible and the mon- 
strous in surrealist art is not so apparent or so strong as 

Mallarm£ 79 

that in the early and post romantics. The urge to commit 
a crime or a mortal sin in order to discover in it an innate 
element of beauty is more easily studied in Sade, Baude- 
laire, and Dostoievski, than in Breton, Eluard, and Desnos. 
In Flaubert's Tentation de Saint Antoine, there is a closer 
identification of lust and death than in the writings of 
Lautreamont. The richest documentation on the study of 
beauty as springing from the paradoxical source of horror 
and suffering would be, first, in the poems and prose of 
Baudelaire; that is, in the example of his poems and the 
critical judgments and exegeses of his prose writings; and, 
second, in the paintings of Eugene Delacroix whom Baude- 
laire admired so unreservedly. Beauty, on the canvases of 
Delacroix, is almost always translated in terms of frenzied 
action and scenes of sadism. Baudelaire, in his poem on 
painters, Les Phares, in the stanza on Delacroix, calls him a 
"lake of blood" (lac de sang). Delacroix illustrated some 
of the more terrifying scenes of Goethe and Byron, and 
chose as subjects for his paintings: the interior of harems, 
or drowned Ophelia, or the sack of Constantinople. In the 
many names with which Baudelaire apostrophized his 
mistress, Jeanne Duval, we begin to see the transformation 
from fatal woman or suffering heroine to the type which 
culminates in Herodiade: tigress, cruel beast, demon, 
vampire, frigid idol, black Venus, Amazon. Jeanne is 
feared by Baudelaire, almost as if she were a Clytemnestra, 
who, like the women of Lesbos, murdered her husband. 

The evolution from early and late romanticism to such 
a work as Herodiade marks the shift from the drama of 
sadism, as illustrated in such writers as the Marquis de 
Sade, Baudelaire, and Lautreamont, to the drama of oc- 
cultism, as illustrated by Gerard de Nerval, Villiers de 
l'lsle-Adam, Mallarme, and Huysmans. These two dramas 
cannot be fixed chronologically. Lautreamont, for example, 
wrote his sadism-permeated cantos after Mallarme had 
composed his first version of Herodiade. However, the 

80 Age of Surrealism 

drama of hermeticism seems to succeed in time the drama 
of sexual violence, although there always remains an ele- 
ment and a memory of sadism in occultism. These two 
words might easily be translated by the Nietzschean terms: 
Dionysos and Apollo. Nietzsche's work, The Birth of 
Tragedy, which states that art contains something of both 
the Dionysian and Apollonian strains, was first published 
in Leipzig in 1872, just three years after the first appear- 
ance in print of Herodiade. The terms we have been using 
of sadism and occultism seem to be narrowed and particu- 
larized synonyms of what Nietzsche means by Dionysos and 
Apollo. They represent two traits of distinction Or dis- 
tinctiveness by which the writer is able to isolate himself 
from the rest of society: first, as a psychological man whose 
instincts seem shocking and reprehensible; and, second, 
as artist whose work is difficult to understand. The artist- 
Dionysos is the reprobate and pariah in terms of bourgeois 
society, such as Baudelaire and Rimbaud. The artist- 
Apollo is the priest and guardian of creative secrets, such 
as Mallarme and Andre" Breton. In Herodiade it would be 
possible to point out elements of sadism, as well as the more 
obvious elements of occultism and the general romantic 
temperament, but all these elements appear conventional- 
ized and disciplined. Mallarme has condensed in a single 
poem much of the literary and artistic efforts of a century. 
He has, therefore, in a certain sense applied a classical 
method to romantic traits and themes. 

In the Gothic tales and the so-called "romans noirs" of 
Sade, Lewis, and Radcliffe, the heroine or the beautiful 
woman is treated as victim. The scenes of orgy and destruc- 
tion show her as a kind of sacrificial victim and the means 
by which man's passion and frenzy are aroused. But, as it 
often occurs in the evolution of religious practice when 
the victim becomes god, so in this literary evolution the 
victimized or fatal woman of the romantics becomes a 
goddess in such a work as Herodiade. The art form in 

Mallarm£ 81 

which she appears is so placid and bejeweled that it re- 
sembles Byzantium art and is often referred to by the term 
Byzantianism. H£rodiade in her final state attains to a 
closed metallic useless perfection. The words of the poem 
take on something of the vain beauty of jewels. The hair 
of H£rodiade as the symbol of a cold and golden treasure, 
becomes a commonplace in literary symbols of the latter 
19th century. It was a facile transcription of the psycho- 
logical moment when the dream about life had succeeded 
in exhausting the impulse to live. 

The exoticism of such a state of mind as well as the 
simple exoticism of Herodiade's appearance are types very 
easy to confuse with mysticism. At best, Herodiade's might 
be called a mystical exoticism since it takes her outside the 
actualities of time and space. This will be a goal repeatedly 
announced and described by the surrealists. Whereas the 
real mystic seeks to move outside the world in order to 
unite with Divinity, Herodiade's exotic goal appears much 
more narcissistic, more closely allied with the enigmatical 
and androgynous mystery of Leonardo's Gioconda, cele- 
brated by Walter Pater, and with the psychic powers of 
Keats' La Belle Dame sans Merci. 

I saw pale kings, and princes too, 
Pale warriors, death-pale were they all; 
They cried — 'La Belle Dame sans Merci 
Hath thee in thrall 1' 

The shift from Baudelaire's Jeanne Duval, called ti- 
gress and vampire, to Mallarme's Herodiade, virgin and 
priestess, is paralleled in the shift from Delacroix' paintings 
of women to Gustave Moreau's. After the fiery drama of 
Delacroix' oils we come to pictures of a cold static state in 
Moreau. Mario Praz in his book The Romantic Agony has 
pointed out how Moreau worships his subjects from out- 
side, how they are all ambiguous and androgynous figures, 
as Herodiade is. 

155 4-74 

82 Age of Surrealism 

Huysmans in his novel, A Re b ours, imagines that his 
hero, des Esseintes, acquires two paintings o£ Moreau: one, 
Salome, in oil, and the other, L' Apparition, in water color. 
These two paintings depict the two aspects of woman em- 
phasized by the romantic and decadent movements of the 
19th century. In the water color, L' Apparition, Salome is 
cowering half-naked and horror-struck before the severed 
head of John the Baptist. In the oil painting she appears as 
a symbolic deity, reminiscent of ancient Helen, and holds 
in her hand a Lotus flower, the Egyptian and Indian sym- 
bol of fertility. Mallarme uses for Salome her mother's 
name because she is the woman who has conquered terror, 
who incarnates at the beginning of the modern world fe- 
male beauty and cruelty, and who thus perpetuates a par- 
ticular myth of woman which had been fashioned earlier 
by the Sphinx, by Pasiphaea, Leda, Europa. 

The same character, in Mallarme's own time, was 
treated by Flaubert and Laforgue and Oscar Wilde as 
well as by Richard Strauss in his opera. But Mallarme's 
creation is more significant psychologically. It is, in a 
sense, a synthesis of the entire symbolist and decadent 
movement in art. His Herodiade, a kind of Emma Bovary 
become priestess, represents the anguish of loneliness. One 
idea dominates Herodiade: the triumph over all her long- 
ings, the effort to make of herself a human star (un astre 
humain). In Picasso's painting of 1932, Girl before a 
mirror, we have an example in painting of what Mallarme 
did in poetry: a psychological or even surrealist portrait of 
an hysterical girl overcome by a kind of hieratic indolence. 
Mallarme's Herodiade and Picasso's Girl before a mirror 
both speak to the mirror as if they are speaking to the stars 
and to the void. 

V • APOLLINAIRE: the poet 


Prophet-like, Rimbaud, during his life 
as poet, existed quite alone and separated from his age. 
Guillaume Apollinaire is another type of writer, solidly 
a part of his age, and so integrated with a group of artists 
that his work has been somewhat overshadowed by a period. 
He was so flamboyantly the initiator and spokesman of 
a period, the first decade and a half of this country, that 
it is difficult to think of him as an individual writer. His 
close friend Max Jacob once jokingly referred to "Apol- 
linaire's century" (le siecle d' Apollinaire). The joke indi- 
cates the role of leader he played in the Paris art circles. 
He dominated his age and his friends, investing them with 
his sense of life and vigor and humor, and thereby dimin- 
ished, without wishing to do so, perhaps, the importance 
of his poetry. Apollinaire became, first, his century, and 
then, one of the poets of his century. 

For Paris, he created out of himself such a legendary 
character, ubiquitous and colorful, that this self-made 
legend became more important for his friends and con- 
temporaries than the verse he published. He was pre- 
eminently the character in Paris: the impassioned and 

84 Age of Surrealism 

Bohemian artist who spoke volubly and wittily on art and 
any other subject; the exuberant and affectionate friend 
who was seen everywhere: in the offices of newspapers and 
publishers; at the Bibliotheque Nationale looking up some 
erudite subject, because he earned money as ghost writer 
for eminent professional authors; along the quais where 
he walked endlessly and untiringly; in the various caf£s 
frequented by his friends. And always, no matter where he 
was met, an article or a poem, unfinished, was stuffed into 
his pocket. The excessively lived character of Guillaume 
Apollinaire has always made it difficult for critics, those 
who knew him and those who came after him, to look at 
his work. It has encouraged everyone to consider the legend 
of the man. The real fantasy of Apollinaire, however, is 
that of his work, to which we shall come. But first, since it 
is inevitable and unavoidable, a word about the fantasy of 
his life and his personality. 

His life was like a brilliant reign. In many ways he was 
comparable to an artist-monarch, both real and symbolic, 
whose energy and humor formed in Paris for ten years a 
veritable art-civilization. And yet the elements of this 
life-reign seem to be a curious mixture of tragedy and 
caricature-burlesque, of mystery and childlike naivete. 

He was born in Rome on the 26th of August, 1880, not 
with the name Guillaume Apollinaire, but rather Wilhelm 
Apollinaris de Kostrowitsky. His mother seems to have 
been Polish, but actually she is just as mysterious as her 
son in everything that concerns accuracy of biographical 
detail. The darkest mystery in Apollinaire's life is his 
father. Some claimed that his mother once said he was an 
Italian officer, but most friends of Apollinaire believed 
the father was a prelate in Rome, and quite probably a 
cardinal. A few even insisted, somewhat maliciously, that 
he was the pope himself. Such obscurity of birth is an as- 
sured beginning of legend, and Apollinaire's friends made 
the most of it. Picasso, who made many portraits of Apol- 

Apollinaire 85 

linaire, shows him in one, clothed in a bishop's vestments, 
a mitre on his head, a bishop's staff in one hand, and the 
pastoral ring on the other hand. Investigations of the 
Polish-Lithuanian background have tried to prove that 
the ancestors were noble and warlike, and thereby explain 
Apollinaire's bravery and love of duels. 

His mother was very rarely present in his life. The boy 
received a Catholic education, first at the College de 
Monaco, then at Cannes, and then at Nice. This Mediter- 
ranean climate was his first, where he developed a nostalgic 
predilection for ancient civilizations and for varied kinds 
of exotic cooking. By eighteen, when he completed his 
studies, he was independent, and came to Paris where he 
secured employment as a bank clerk. He became almost 
immediately the friend of many young artists and writers 
who were to become later leading figures in the French capi- 
tal: Andr£ Salmon, Picasso, Paul Fort, Vlaminck, Max 
Jacob, Marie Laurencin, Jarry. Apollinaire depended upon 
the continual presence of his friends. His close friends were 
always worried about the ease with which Apollinaire 
talked with strange and sometimes dangerous characters in 
the streets or cafes, and his habit of bringing them home 
with him to continue endlessly whatever conversation was 

With his earliest friends, Andre Billy and Andre Salmon, 
he began his literary career of journalist, art critic, and 
poet. Apollinaire always seemed to become leader and 
animator of the various groups of artists, of the "cenacles 
poetiques," which met at the favorite cafes: la Closerie des 
Lilas in Montparnasse, the Lapin Agile in Montmartre, 
the Bateau Lavoir of the rue Ravignan where Picasso lived 
and where he received his "Bohemian" friends. Apolli- 
naire protected and encouraged the painters. Two, es- 
pecially, owe him a great deal in the role of publicist and 
personal encourager: Rousseau le douanier and Marie 
Laurencin. Apollinaire participated in innumerable and 

86 Age of Surrealism 

ephemeral art-literary magazines. Three were more or less 
founded in his honor, one of which, Les Soirees de Paris, 
appearing between 1911 and 1914, contains many precious 
documents for any historian of the period. 

The year 1908, which was exactly ten years after Apol- 
linaire's first arrival in Paris, might conveniently be taken 
as the time when the new century had begun, when new 
forms of art and new philosophical forces had replaced 
much of what we consider 19th century art and thought. 
Inspired by Bergson's lessons on the primacy of intuition 
and dreams, artists were looking for a more "real" world 
than the exterior world. The music of Debussy and jazz 
music, the nostalgic quality of the "blues" and the exciting 
rhythms of Negro rag- time music, were affording a kind of 
irrational remedy for much that was considered worn-out 
and dated in 19th century art forms. The canvases of Pi- 
casso and the poems of Apollinaire at this time were con- 
cerned with a series of strange "saltimbanques," of clowns 
and acrobats who represented pictorially and metaphysi- 
cally a defiance of common sense. The ballets russes were 
providing a vast caricature of the period in their buffoons 
and multi-colored marionettes. Petrouchka was the hero 
of the age, half -comic, half -tragic, half -real, half -surreal. 

The kingdom of the poets extended from the Cafe des 
Deux Magots on the Boulevard St. Germain to the Boule- 
vard Montparnasse, and throughout it reigned a curious 
form of inquietude or restlessness or subdued pessimism, 
often projected in a tense staccato kind of gaiety. The 
poets drank and smoked and quarreled in an atmosphere 
of cynicism and witticism, the very kind of atmosphere 
which serves as cloak and disguise for the deepest feelings 
of uprootedness and dereliction. 

Apollinaire grew out of this atmosphere and created it 
at the same time. He became the critic of painters, the 
exponent especially of cubism, which is the most calculated 
and mathematical of all arts, the most barren of incident 

Apollinaire 87 

and story and representation. Apollinaire's love for cubism 
is in striking contrast with his own poetry, so irrational 
by nature and definition, so suffuse with its subdued and 
fragmentary narrative quality. One thinks instinctively 
of Delacroix' love for Mozart, of the strange principle 
whereby an artist harbors within himself opposing loves 
and dreams. It almost seems that a great artist creates his 
art only by opposing a whole side of his nature, by dis- 
ciplining and castigating a rich instinct and love of his 
nature. Apollinaire was a thinker, a critic, almost a philoso- 
pher for an entire generation of French artists, for a 
period that was truculent and unruly, fascinated by the 
early films of the cinema and the movie-characters of 
mechanical Petrouchka-like gestures. 

He was for his age both sorcerer and legend. His curios- 
ity over things of the spirit was as closely followed as his 
love for good food, for the various national cuisines: Pro- 
vencal, Chinese, Jewish, Spanish, Russian, Arabian, Greek, 
Polish, Turkish. Highest in his estimation were Italian and 
French cooking. Lowest was the British with its monoto- 
nous red meat. He liked almost everything from fried onions 
and petits fours to goulash with paprika. In September, 
1911, when the Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre, 
Apollinaire was accused of the theft and put in prison 
for six days, at the end of which he was found to be inno- 
cent and released. 

In 1914, he joined the French army. He wasn't a French 
citizen and hence not mobilized. I suppose there was no 
single motive for this act. It was perhaps love for his 
adopted country, or desire for adventure, or belief that 
he would be able to reenact the legend of war. He was seri- 
ously wounded in March of 1916, by a piece of shell which 
struck his head. He underwent two operations, two tra- 
panations, and his appearance in Paris afterwards, with 
his head heavily bandaged, provided a final chapter for 
his legend. Picasso made another drawing of him in this 

88 Age of Surrealism 

ultimate disguise. He became literally the "star-head poet," 
(le poete a la tete etoilee). In late October, 1918, he fell 
sick with grippe, and died a few days later, on the 9th of 
November. On the day of the Armistice his body was being 
carried through the streets of Paris in the direction of 
Pere Lachaise, while the crowds ironically were shouting 
his name Guillaume, Conspuez Guillaume, but meaning 
by it the German Wilhelm. 


The story of his life was the effort he 
made to guard secrets and mysteries, and to create for his 
friends and his public a character whom they would love 
and yet not know too intimately. The buffoonery of his 
character, his endless anecdotes and pranks, permitted him 
to conceal or disguise the nostalgia and sadness and even 
perhaps the tragedy of his life. But the poetry of Guillaume 
Apollinaire is not mask and deceit. It is fantasy in the 
deepest sense of the word. It is lawful fantasy: its images 
rightfully conceal and communicate at the same time the 
emotions he experienced. 

His poetic fantasy was, first, that of revolt, by which he 
always remained precious and close to the surrealists. He 
broke with the familiar patterns of thought, with the 
poetic cliches and literariness of the Parnassians and Sym- 
bolists, and with the familiar units and rules of syntax. 
His poetry comes together in a great freedom of composi- 
tion, as if he allowed the images and emotions to compose 
themselves. In his poetry, phantoms, wanderers, mythic 
characters bearing sonorous names, appear and disappear 
as the laws of syntax and prosody do. His verse is not liter- 
ary in any strict sense, and in that, he marks a revolt against 
the poetic research and endeavor of the entire preceding 
period. He didn't read the obvious books that were being 
read in his time: Stendhal, Zola, Whitman, Rimbaud 
(although he was decidedly influenced by Rimbaud). But 

Apollinaire 89 

he read Fantomas avidly, which was a series of popular 
detective-mystery stories. 

It was quite appropriate that Apollinaire, coming after 
the highly self-conscious and studied literary school of 
symbolism, would, in rebellion against such artifice, seek 
to return to the most primitive sources of lyricism. I have 
a feeling that only because such a fully developed literary 
tradition was in him, as a part of his background, was he 
able to allow in his verse the seemingly spontaneous mix- 
ture of emotion and irony, of nostalgia and cynicism. Both 
by the form and content of his poetry, he seems to be mak- 
ing a kind of plea or defence for moral disorder, or moral 
relaxation. The adventure of Apollinaire, if we were to 
extract such a subject from his work, would closely re- 
semble the adventure of Gide: the lessons on freedom and 
gratuitousness and individual morality, which were being 
formulated at the same time. Apollinaire thus prolongs 
the lesson of Rimbaud and Mallarme\ in considering 
poetic activity as a secret means of knowledge, self-knowl- 
edge and world-knowledge. 

A legitimate part of poetry must therefore come from 
hidden occult forces in us. To seize them, or to cause them 
to rise up, we may have to set traps: play the fool, enact 
farces, experiment with chance and free association. The 
image may be seen in its full autonomy when we risk 
everything in poetic composition on the unpredictable, 
the unforeseen. Magic exists everywhere around us, and 
not solely in the artfully contrived. It is unexpectedly 
found in the trivial and commonplace. Poetry is perhaps 
the opposite of literature. The poetic is perhaps the op- 
posite of the formalized. 

In all this aesthetic dogmatism, the moral is impossible 
to dissociate from the poetic. Surrealism is an entire way 
of life, and not merely a set of rules governing an artistic 
production. As the soul of the artist learns how to free 
himself from the usual restrictions and enslavements and 

90 Age of Surrealism 

the formal habits of society, so the language which exists 
in the deepest regions of our being, in the state of pre- 
articulation, learns to rise up to our consciousness freely 
and unhampered. The poet learns how to give voice to a 
stammering and stuttering which have always existed in 
him. The original sound of words, which is not usually very 
audible, becomes a clear and resounding echo when the 
poet is able to establish an interrelationship between the 
real and the imaginary worlds. 

The example of Apollinaire's life and character strongly 
influenced the surrealists of the 20's and 30's, but today, 
in the few years which have followed the end of the Second 
War, the influence of his poetry on the young poets is more 
marked than it has ever been, stronger and more apparent, 
I think, than the influence even of Rimbaud's poetry. 
During the season of 1947, Poulenc's opera on Apolli- 
naire's play, Les mamelles de Tiresias, was a major event. 
Doctrinally he taught the surrealists by the actions and 
habits of his life, by his anecdotes and oracular statements, 
so many of which have been piously remembered. Apol- 
linaire became a kind of patron saint and intercessor of 
surrealists. But in the 1940's, in the new poetry, the actual 
form and resonance of his verse have been recaptured. 
He has finally become the poet, and more preeminently 
the master poet, than any single surrealist poet who fol- 
lowed and revered him. 

The practical example of Apollinaire's poetry is a warn- 
ing against the two most dangerous temptations of poe- 
try, the two traps everlastingly set to stifle its life vigor: 
first, didacticism or moral preaching; and secondly, over- 
conscious intent or exaggerated artifice. When poetry avoids 
these two pitfalls, as Apollinaire's does, it is able to become 
a complete and autonomous universe, capable of encircling 
us and assailing us. When we read this kind of poetry, we 
know that a world is being organized and constructed 
around us. It gradually becomes so ordered and achieved 

Apollinaire 91 

that we end by recognizing this new country and end by 
recognizing ourselves in it. 

The universe of great poetry is always composed of pas- 
sions and images: passions which are the experiences of 
suffering and therefore of knowing; and images which in 
their rhythmical form are the unique way a poet has to 
express his passion. Apollinaire's volume, Alcools, of 1913, 
is this kind of universe. The poems have the quality of 
folk-lore and fairy tales. The inhabitants are nymphs and 
blond Loreleis, pot-bellied prelates, clowns and saltim- 
banques, thieves and little girls. These are all projections 
and images of Apollinaire himself, selves of the poet 
which permit him in the joyously free realm of poetry to 
marvel at everything and compose anything into the unity 
of a poem or of a book. Critics have pointed out that Apol- 
linaire is the only one of the major poets who never sounds 
the theme of mysticism, who, unlike a Peguy or a Claudel 
or an Eliot, seems impervious to the religious problem in 
any form. This critical statement seems to me too absolute 
because of the primitive mystical quality in magic. There 
is no true or matured mysticism in Apollinaire's poetry, 
that is certain, but the way between the mysterious and 
the mystical is not very far. The poet Apollinaire is like a 
mystical child, enchanted but not inspired, too humble and 
too fearful, too wondrously imaginative to consider or 
need the experience of religious ecstasy. 

The first poem of the volume Alcools, called Zone, was 
actually the last poem to be composed. One evening in 
the summer of 1913, Apollinaire was in a small bar on the 
boulevard de Clichy, between the Place Blanche and the 
Place Pigalle. His companions, among others, were Mar- 
coussis, Juan Gris, and Raoul Dufy. As far as one can tell, 
Apollinaire was depressed. It was the time when Marie 
Laurencin, whom he loved, had deserted him. The con- 
versation, inspired by a very fine white wine, had caused 
him to consider the whole expanse of his life, the develop- 

92 Age of Surrealism 

ment and evolution of his character. He went home alone 
to an apartment on the boulevard Berthier, lent to him by 
a friend, and in the space of one night composed the 
poem Zone. It is an expansive freely written piece, a kind 
of spiritual autobiography and a condensed history of 
Apollinaire's period. At the beginning of the poem stands 
the Eiffel Tower in the image of a shepherdess watching 
over her flock of bridges: 

Bergere, 6 Tour Eiffel le troupeau des ponts bele ce matin. 

Initially in the poem this line illustrates an aspect of 
surrealist art in its unexpected and slightly humorous 
analogy. Throughout the poem Apollinaire accentuates an 
urban magic, the new poetic force visible in bridges and 
machines, in automobiles and airplanes. During the cafe 
conversation, which perhaps initiated the poem, Juan Gris, 
in pointing to some affiches: some billboard signs or ad- 
vertisements, had exclaimed: Voila notre poesie! Some of 
the brutal and multi-colored modern advertising is carried 
over into Apollinaire's verses. Catalogues, billboards, and 
newspapers have their own dynamic rhythms, which are 
those of the modern city and machines, and they represent 
legitimate experiences of the poet on which he may draw. 
Apollinaire's poem Zone originated in a Paris bureau de 
tabac (devant le zinc d'un bar crapuleux) on the boulevard 
de Clichy in 1913, and W. H. Auden's poem of 1947, The 
Age of Anxiety, originated in a New York bar on 3rd 
Avenue. The two titles Zone and Age are not dissimilar, 
and the prewar inquietude of Apollinaire, or his lassitude 
of the first line (A la fin tu es las de ce monde ancien) bears 
relationship with Auden's war-engendered existentialist 


Poets, in order to live and create, have 
to destroy the poetic tradition out of which they came. In 

Apollinaire 93 

such a poem as Zone and the other earlier poems of Apol- 
linaire which follow it in Alcools, one can sense the revo- 
lutionary use to which poetry is being put. The strong 19th 
century poetic tradition was hard to kill. Apollinaire op- 
posed to its formalized emotion and rhetoric, a poetry of 
irony and paradox and indirectness. All the familiar child- 
hood and religious nostalgia is still there in his poetry, but 
it is treated in a new freshness and humor. In referring, 
for example, to the Ascension of Christ, Apollinaire says 
that He goes up to the sky better than aviators: 

C'est le Christ qui monte au ciel mieux que les aviateurs. 

One of the longest poems of Apollinaire, and in many 
ways his finest writing, is the third in this 1913 volume: 
La Chanson du Mal-Aime. The remarkable and ambiguous 
effect of this poem is that it illustrates surrealism in tech- 
nique, theme, and expression, and at the same time re- 
sembles very ancient poetry of France by its form and 
texture. It is as new as surrealism, as old as Villon, and as 
old-fashioned as Verlaine. It is impossible to read it with- 
out hearing the resonances and remembering the affinities 
it has with Villon and the tragic mask of Verlaine, and yet 
it is also brilliantly unique: Apollinaire's poem and only 

I have alluded many times to the magical property of 
poetry, to the contained magic of words, and believe that in 
La Chanson du Mal-Aime we have an admirable example 
of poetic phrases, which, when recited over and over again, 
take on new and unexpected meaning. Formally, in the 
literal and accustomed meaning of the words, we learn one 
thing — and then gradually, as if in another part of ourselves, 
rarely exposed to words, we may hear an echo of this poem, 
an elucidation of our own experience, which is the poem's 
also. In every great poem, there is always an aspect of 
eternal childhood, which in Apollinaire's Chanson be- 
comes identified, almost miraculously, with our own. And 

94 Age of Surrealism 

there is also, in every great poem, the apocalyptic tradition, 
the threatening image of mortality and the threatening 
image of some period in time, which in La Chanson du 
Mal-Aime is tragically that of our own age. According to 
this theory, which is a very personal one of mine, every 
poem begins by being the poem of an angel (which is the 
memory of childhood and childhood innocency), and ends 
by becoming the poem of an exiled angel. Rimbaud would 
be the most dazzling example of this theory. Apollinaire 
would be a more moderate, or more modest, example, but 
quite as authentic. 

The dedication of La Chanson du Mal-Aime to Paul 
Leautaud, director of the Mercure de France, is easily ex- 
plained. One day Leautaud met Apollinaire on the boule- 
vard Montparnasse and asked him why he had sent nothing 
to the Mercure. Apollinaire replied that he had sent in a 
poem a long time ago and had heard nothing from it. On 
his return to the office, Leautaud discovered the poem, La 
Chanson du Mal-Aime, in a pile of discarded manuscripts, 
read it, and published it. 

In no other poem of Apollinaire does one feel so persist- 
ently the presence of an intimate kind of suffering, which 
however is never made precise. It is quite certain that the 
Chanson is about some secret catastrophe, some incura- 
ble sadness, but the poet-Apollinaire so completely disap- 
peared from his own life that we are never able to formu- 
late a specific dilemma. His friends liked to believe that 
the poem is about his unhappy love for the painter Marie 
Laurencin, but Apollinaire at all times led so strictly a 
surrealist life that we have no documents about him, only 
anecdotes; no biography, only legend. 

The title of the piece is perhaps very meaningful. It is 
not a love poem, it is a love song. A poem would be more 
organized, more exclusively and pointedly on the subject 
of love. But a song has no strict form and La Chanson du 
Mal-Aime is seemingly on many different subjects. The 

Apollinaire 95 

theme of love becomes subtly and significantly prominent 
throughout the work because it is the one subject always 
carefully avoided. It is the subject changed into all other 
subjects. The poet here is no lover. He is the timid singer 
of a song. His life has been transformed into songs for 
sirens, but those are precisely the songs we seize and under- 
stand so profoundly at certain moments of self-lucidity. 
The poem begins like a ballad or old romance: 

Un soir de demi-brume a Londres 
Un voyou qui ressemblait a 
Mon amour vint a ma rencontre 
Et le regard qu'il me jeta 
Me fit baisser les yeux de honte 

I don't know of any more ambiguous beginning of a poem 
than this first stanza of La Chanson du Mal-Aime. The mal- 
aime (or lonely lover or poet) is walking through a London 
fog when he meets a voyou. The word is untranslatable, but 
refers to a young boy of dubious character and appearance, 
a kind of city tramp, usually associated with Paris, who 
exploits the feelings and pocketbooks of those he encoun- 
ters. This voyou of the poem, Apollinaire tells us, re- 
sembles his love, and the boy's expression makes the poet 
look downward in shame. I call this initial stanza ambigu- 
ous because in the light of what follows, it is not what one 
thinks it is, and yet one is never sure! 

The second stanza continues with the strange narrative: 

Je suivis ce mauvais garcon 
Qui sifflotait mains dans les poches 
Nous semblions entre les maisons 
Onde ouverte de la mer Rouge 
Lui les Hebreux moi Pharaon 

The mal-aime or poet follows the voyou who, whistling 
and his hands in his pockets, plays the predictable role of 
studied indifference and nonchalance, a kind of inverted 

96 Age of Surrealism 

adolescent Pied Piper of Hamlin luring the nobler souls 
of the city. But three of the five lines in the stanza are a 
strikingly pure surrealist image of this pursuit and flight. 
The street is the Red Sea, the voyou is the children of Israel, 
and the poet is the Egyptian Pharaoh. We have suddenly 
left the restricted area of narrative and entered the bound- 
less region, where we stay henceforth in the poem, of allu- 
sion and imagery. 

We soon arrive, in the fifth stanza, to another episode of 
resemblance and recognition. This time it is an intoxi- 
cated woman coming out from a pub who reminds the 
poet of his love. The voyou wasn't quite a man, in the 
poet's first encounter, and this woman of the second en- 
counter is inhuman {e'etait son regard d'inhumaine). She 
bears a scar on her neck, as if she might be a victim of vam- 
pirism. These two apparitions in the London fog, the 
whistling voyou and the vampire woman (the type of 
femme fatale), objectively describe the overwhelming pre- 
monition of the poet around which the romance is to be 
constructed: the falseness of love itself: La faussete de 
V amour mime. 

This ends the introduction of the Chanson. The fog 
dissipates, as in a dream, and it never forms again. This 
initial thought is cruel and startling, and yet it is spoken 
with the gentleness and the ellipsis of a ballad. We were 
introduced only to the dream and the two characters who 
half emerge from the mistiness of the dream as the per- 
verted or transformed characters of legend. Apollinaire, in 
his role of mal-aime, accepts the falseness of his love with 
the humility of a simple man, like the surrealist who learns 
how to submit himself to the miracle and magic of exist- 
ence where the world of dreams and the conscious world 
are eternally interdependent. 

There is a difference between the romantic attitude and 
the surrealist attitude. The romantic's is a pose: his heart 
and his pride have been offended, and he stands off from 

Apollinaire 97 

the world in a magnificent sullenness. His grievances 
mount up in resonant periods and he vituperates directly 
against the false mistress or the false society. But the sur- 
realist attitude is the discovery of a curious and pathetic 
unity between falseness and truth, between the real and 
the surreal world. In the 1 1th stanza of La Chanson du Mal- 
Aime there is another boat of memory, another metaphor 
of sea voyage where Rimbaud's drunken boat is sobered, 
where the final stanzas of Bateau Ivre with their deep 
pathos, are remembered in even greater ballad simplicity. 

Mon beau navire 6 ma memoire 
Avons-nous assez navigue 
Dans une onde mauvaise a boire 
Avons-nous assez divague 
De la belle aube au triste soir 

The violence of Rimbaud's experience, so equally sharing 
in the romantic and surrealist attitudes, is here in Apol- 
linaire subdued into the most gentle kind of irony where 
the impossibility of love is the experience of the ineffable, 
of the unspeakable. The loneliness of the mal-aime is best 
transcribed by the distant milky way of the heavens (Voie 
lactee 6 soeur lumineuse) in the 13th stanza, and by the 
memory of another year, in the 14th: Je me souviens d'une 
autre annee. 

Bohemian Apollinaire, his favorite characterization, is 
here a poet who sings about himself a romance so totally 
mysterious, so totally indecipherable, that he sings about 
every man. The lonely voyou of the first two stanzas never 
really leaves the poem. He is joined with the poet himself 
in his need to tempt life without resolving it, in his will 
to live without assuming responsibility for life. What is 
going to become the surrealist attitude — namely, the child- 
like acceptance of reality and surreality, the childlike 
acceptance of the oneness of life — is prepared in the Bohe- 
mian poet of the first decade of the 20th century, in Apolli- 

98 Age of Surrealism 

naire's mal-aime, who is really a voyou, in Petrouchka 
whose tiny heart beats in a straw-stuffed body, in the sal- 
timbanques of Picasso, in the real clowns of the Cirque 
Medrano, who were so admired by Apollinaire and Picasso 
and Cocteau, in Charlie Chaplin's eternal role of the tramp, 
the American version of the European clown and the inno- 
cent voyou. In Chaplin's most recent film, Monsieur Ver- 
doux, he abandons the role of tramp for the dandy, the 
other choreographic expression of the modern artist. The 
clown is the poet who doesn't speak. He is like the mal- 
aime who so compresses language and experience that he 
sings them. He pretends that love is dead (L'amour est 
mort fen suis tremblant says Apollinaire's mal-aime in 
stanza 20) but who remains, throughout all his pretence, 
"faithful and sad" (Je reste fidele et dolent, stanza 20). 
This is the characterization of Chaplin in all his early films: 
the vagabond who wanders from saloon to saloon in try- 
ing to convert a real experience he never refers to, into a 
fictional pattern, a surreal ballet. 

If we are unable to see very clearly the mal-aime, an- 
nounced in Apollinaire's title, we are able to follow the 
transposed version of his drama. In it there are no traces 
of realist art or analytical art. What remains in the poetry 
is the human drama, but so grief-stricken and obscured 
that it has become mythical. The poem engenders a dark- 
ness, both a physical and metaphorical night, in which all 
kinds of opposites cease opposing one another, in which 
all kinds of contraries are harmonized: sadness and joy; 
memory and actuality; a poet and a voyou; a poet and a 
vampire woman. The two deepest opposites are the con- 
scious and the subconscious which are so unlimited by their 
nature that they have to create myths in order to give them- 
selves some boundaries whereby they may see themselves 
and reflect themselves. Thus, in La Chanson du Mal-Aime, 
where the inner world of the ego and the exterior world 
form only one world, the poet truly becomes the child or 

Apollinaire 99 

the angel who is able to pass from one world to the other 
without perceiving any difference between them. This uni- 
fied climate of the poem is the climate of the myth, where, 
for a Rimbaud a mosque is seen in the place of a factory 
or a drawing room at the bottom of a lake, or a family as 
a litter of puppies, and where for Apollinaire his beloved 
appears to him as a voyou or as an inhuman woman com- 
ing out from a pub. 


The profoundest lesson of surrealism 
has to do with unity or unification, and Apollinaire's 
poetry may be considered a transcendent part of this 
lesson. A true poem, according to this doctrine, should 
reveal some aspect of the original unity of the universe. 
This seems to signify that poetry, which is created out of 
suffering (as the world itself was created out of chaos), pre- 
serves the memory of suffering (as the world preserves the 
memory of chaos), teaches man how to bear it and weaves 
a marvellous myth which then becomes a part of all the 
myths of mankind. 

The surrealist is hereby stating a thesis not at all un- 
familiar: that poetry is a method of knowledge, a way of 
knowing. In the history of French poetry, Baudelaire was 
the first to be explicit with this idea. Modern poetry owes 
almost everything to Baudelaire. Mallarme\ in a sense, 
became the philosopher of this theory, the most extraordi- 
nary dreamer and abstractionist of modern poetry. Lau- 
treamont and Rimbaud were the dazzled initiates, the 
victims of the strange illumination. Apollinaire, without 
possessing the poetic genius of a Mallarme" or a Rimbaud, 
was very necessary in the unfolding of this poetic theory. 
He was able to bring poetry back from its Mallarmean 
hermeticism and Rimbaldian violence to tenderness and 
nostalgia, to the gentleness of the clown. With Apollinaire's 
period the clown became the most sensitive of the modern 

100 Age of Surrealism 

heroes, the living receptacle for all dramas, the hero who 
refused to see them as tragedies. The surrealist hero is 
visibly the clown: whether he be Chaplin or Donald Duck, 
the sad saltimbanques of Picasso and Apollinaire, or the 
voyou who temporarily has forgotten the meaning of his 
heart, Jean Gabin or the habitues of the rue de Lappe, or 
their great ancestor Hamlet. There is a significant rap- 
prochement, quite easy to make, between the adjectives 
clowning and surrealist. One might read the Chanson of 
Apollinaire as if Petrouchka were the mal-aime. 

This is the psychological diagnosis of the poet in Apol- 
linaire's poem, La Jolie Rousse, the final poem of his 
volume Calligrammes, published in 1918. He is judging the 
order of Adventure. In the 19th century the romantic hero 
was always judging the order of his heart, but in the 20th 
century the surrealist hero judges the order of his adven- 
ture. The word adventure, when considered in its strict 
etymological meaning (advenire), explains a valid aspect 
of surrealism. It is experience without design, a hazardous 
enterprise of uncertain issue, a peril or a jeopardizing of 
oneself. But this order is limitless: it is the future, the 
adventure of the spirit which lies ahead of us. Adventure 
is the drama of the conscious and the subconscious, of 
the vast and strange domains we know and don't know. 
The most courageous type of hero to embark on such an ad- 
venture is the clown-voyou. The final stanza of the poem, 
La Jolie Rousse, is Apollinaire's cry of a clown. It begins: 

Mais riez riez de moi 

Hommes de partout surtout gens d'ici 

But laugh laugh at me 

Men everywhere and especially you here. 

This is Pagliaccio's invitation to laughter, the clown's dis- 
may in the ring which incites laughter in the public. Then 
comes the confession: 

Apollinaire 101 

Car il y a tant de choses que je n'ose vous dire. 

For there are so many things I don't dare tell you. 

which is the silence of the songs, the literal silence of the 
performing clown, the hermeticism of Mallarme' and the 
surrealists. And the second confession: 

Tant de choses que vous ne me laisseriez pas dire. 

So many things you wouldn't let me tell you. 

In no other line do we read such an explicit statement con- 
cerning the drama of the clown as clown, or the poet as 

The public always ends by being irritated by the clown 
who controls his silence. And that is why the clown por- 
trays so admirably the artist in the solitude of the world, 
and the surrealist far from the real world. In the very last 
words of the poem, Ayez pitiS de moi (Have pity on me), 
are summarized the burning humility of the clown and his 
universal pathos. 

VI • BRETON: the manifestoes 


During the fall term of 1942, most stu- 
dents in American universities were preparing to leave for 
the war. Classes were beginning noticeably to diminish in 
size. I was teaching French literature at Yale, and remem- 
ber particularly, about that period of deep unrest, the 
unusual attentiveness of students during their last classes 
and their concern over which books they should take away 
with them. 

On December 10th, on the invitation of the French and 
Art departments, Andre Breton, who was then working 
for the O.W.I, in New York, came to New Haven to deliver 
a lecture on "The situation of Surrealism between the two 
wars." A large gathering of students, faculty, and towns- 
folk turned out to hear the lecture. M. Breton spoke in 
French, which was a strain for many of those present, and 
some passages in the lecture he read were difficult to follow 
even for those who knew French well. His style is highly 
polished and intricate. His ideas, which might in a more 
simple form be easily recognizable, are in his own form 
intensely abstracted and intellectualized. Breton's writing, 
and this lecture he gave at Yale was essentially a written 

Breton 103 

text, is devoid of the facile and the obvious and the cliche\ 
However, during the entire lecture, slides of the well 
known surrealist paintings were constantly being thrown 
on a screen placed over Breton's head. At the beginning, 
I, like everyone else present, I am sure, tried to see the 
relationship between what was being said and what was 
being shown. But it soon became evident to me that there 
was no direct relationship. The pictures didn't illustrate 
the lecture. They formed a moving and colorful back- 
ground: a kind of second lecture in graphic form which 
one might follow, if one tired of oral expression or found 
it incomprehensible. 

Breton's appearance was majestic and noble. It was very 
easy to credit him with the first role of leader and spokes- 
man and theoretician of surrealism. He is a very large man 
with a handsome leonine head. His countenance bore an 
expression of solemnity which I don't remember his ever 
breaking with a smile. His gestures were sober and re- 
duced. His voice had resonance and great beauty. At the 
end of the lecture, he read more eloquently than I have ever 
heard a poet read, poems of Apollinaire, Tzara, Eluard, 
Peret, and one of his own poems. 

His speech, which was very pointedly directed at the 
students present, has become, since its subsequent publica- 
tion, a kind of third manifesto of surrealism, or at least a 
summation of the first two manifestoes which Breton pub- 
lished in 1924 and 1930. He was very much aware of the 
strangeness and uniqueness of that occasion on December 
10, 1942. A world war was going on. He was in exile while 
his country was governed by Vichy and Nazi-Germany. He 
was speaking on the subject of surrealism in a provincial 
New England city, to a group of American students who, 
no matter how impressed they were with seeing the cele- 
brated leader of surrealism, were thinking above all about 
the gravity of their imminent departure. Even if they had 
learned the names of Apollinaire, Breton, and Lautr^a- 

104 Age of Surrealism 

mont, other names such as Guadalcanal, Stalingrad, Libya 
were uppermost in their minds. But because of the very 
unusualness of the situation, Breton was unable to explain 
and heighten certain aspects of surrealism which appear 
to be among the most important. 

He exalted the appeal which surrealism has always made 
to the young. Surrealism has been kept alive by the par- 
ticular kind of genius we associate with the young. Breton 
and the early surrealists were all young themselves and 
affirmed a boundless faith in the type of youthful genius: 
in Lautreamont, who died at twenty-four; in Rimbaud, 
whose writing was completed at nineteen; in Chirico, who 
painted his best canvases between the ages of twenty-three 
and twenty-eight; in Saint-Just, member of the National 
Convention, who was guillotined at the age of twenty- 
seven; in the German writer Novalis, who died at thirty; 
in Seurat, who died at thirty-two; in Jarry, whose play 
Ubu Roi was composed when he was fifteen and character- 
ized by Breton as the great prophetic avenging play of 
modern times (la grande piece prophetique et vengeresse 
des temps modernes). Breton himself was twenty-three 
when in 1919 he published with Soupault the first chapter 
of Les Champs Magnetiques, illustrative of the new auto- 
matic method of writing. 

Surrealism was founded in the years which immediately 
followed World War I when the young intellectuals, re- 
turning from the front, discovered in the older thinkers 
and artists an inadequacy and an unrelatedness to their 
own thought and state of mind. Those who like Breton 
were to become surrealists turned against Barres, Claudel, 
and even Bergson to some degree. The death of Apolli- 
naire, at the precise moment of the Armistice, had upset 
them. His had been the intellectual adventure they had 
followed the most confidently and joyously, as they had 
literally followed the large figure of the man in his pale 
blue uniform of first lieutenant to the Cafe* de Flore on 

Breton 105 

the boulevard de St. Germain during the war years. They 
were tired and disgusted with the literary eloquence and 
verboseness of the 20th century. Their age had become a 
verbal nightmare for them. The radio, with its perpetual 
flow of words, was converting the world into a delirious 
cacophony. The language of man was being prostituted 
and degraded as it had never been before. 

Breton was one of the first Frenchmen, who was not a 
psychoanalyst, to study Freud. He told us, in the lecture 
at Yale, that when he was twenty, on his various Paris 
leaves from the army, he tried successively to interest Apol- 
linaire, Valery, and Gide in Freud. But they all turned 
him down with indulgent smiles and a friendly pat on the 
back. Breton's enthusiasm and veneration for Freud, as far 
as I know, have never diminished. He believes that Freud 
is one of the greatest forces in helping modern man to 
rediscover the meaning and the vitality of words. 

In his first manifesto of 1924, Breton emphasized the 
meaning of the word liberty as being a basis for surrealism 
(le seul mot de liberie est tout ce qui m'exalte encore) 
and in his speech of 1942, he used the w T ord again with all 
the fullness of meaning it had at that time and on that 
occasion. The sentence he quoted from Saint-Just, the "con- 
ventionnel" at the time of the French Revolution, had a 
deep resonant effect and appropriateness: Pas de liberte 
pour les ennemis de la liberte. ("No freedom for the en- 
emies of freedom.") He interpreted liberty as being the 
guiding motivation of all surrealist activity, and explained 
tKe many excommunications which he, Andre Breton, per- 
formed as surrealist pope, in terms of infidelity to liberty. 
The excommunicants were those artists who disqualified 
themselves by some infringement on the sanctity of this 
doctrine liberty. 

Liberty for the artist, according to Breton, means first 
a liberation from rules of art. The artist expresses his lib- 
erty iconoclastically. In poetry, the leading examples would 

106 Age of Surrealism 

be Lautreamont, Rimbaud, Mallarme in his final poem, 
Un coup de des, Apollinaire — especially in his "poemes- 
conversations" of C alii grammes. In painting, the examples 
would be Van Gogh, Seurat, Rousseau, Matisse, Picasso, 
Duchamp. These lists vary from year to year with Breton. 
His life is a series of fervent friendships and violent de- 
nunciations of former friends. At the time of the New 
Haven speech his most eloquent invective was leveled at 
Dali, who had been excommunicated on two grounds. 
First, for having bartered his soul for money. Breton had 
devised a humorous anagram out of the name Salvador 
Dali. He refused even to say the real name but spoke only 
the anagram: Avida Dollars: a half -Spanish, half -American 
clue to Dali's current sin. And second, for having revealed 
Fascist tendencies in painting the Spanish ambassador, 
who, because he was the representative of France, was im- 
plicated in the oppression of Spain and even in the death 
of Dali's friend, the great Spanish poet, Garcia Lorca. 

The disquisition on liberty would constitute the pro- 
legomenon or the preamble to the surrealist creed. From 
all the writings of Breton, especially the two manifestoes 
of 1924 and 1930, and the Situation du Surrealisme of 
1942, as well as from other theoretical writings, one might 
draw up a kind of program in five parts consisting of those 
beliefs which seem to have fluctuated the least in the minds 
and the works of the leading surrealists. 

1. The importance accorded to dreams and the 
subconscious life of man. Here the teachings of Freud are 
all important and seem to validate the practice of auto- 
matic writing or direct note-taking of one's subconscious 

2. The second belief would be a corollary or a 
result of the first. It has to do with a denial of what we 
usually consider contradictions or paradoxes in our expe- 
rience. The human mind is able to attain a state where 
forces which appear opposed are harmonized and unified 

Breton 107 

into one force. The sentence of Breton's second manifesto 
which states this belief is so important and so admirably 
composed that it should be quoted in its entirety: "There 
is a certain point for the mind from which life and death, 
the real and the imaginary, the past and the future, the 
communicable and the incommunicable, the high and the 
low cease being perceived as con traditions." This sen- 
tence is actually a development of a passage in the first 
manifesto where the resolution of dream and reality is 
conceived of as being absolute reality or surreality. 

3. The third belief is concerned with the most 
puzzling of the so-called contradictions: thejmtinomy be- 
tween man and nature, the conviction that one is of a 
different order than the other, and that hence there exists 
between the two a perpetual state of discord. The Breton- 
surrealist answer to this contradiction is obscure for the 
surrealists as well as for the outsider. The action of 
"chance" (le hasard) or "coincidence" seems to be the 
mystery to decipher and the key to this particular contra- 
diction. It is possible that as we learn to progress along the 
way of the subconscious, we shall learn more about the 
phenomena of "chance" which do appear to play a part in 
our daily existence as well as in such a humanly or con- 
sciously calculated enterprise as a war. 

4. The fourth part we have already somewhat 
discussed in the emergence of the surrealist attitude as the 
result of the experience of war, of the psychic upheaval 
caused by war. Wars are fought by young men at an age 
when they, if they weren't engaged in warfare, would be 
organizing, systematizing, and planning their lives and 
their careers. They would be choosing a philosophy, learn- 
ing and imitating the art and the thought of older men. 
If, at the age of twenty, one wears a uniform and engages 
in warfare, one is thereby dissolving the permanencies and 
stabilizing beliefs which usually form the architecture of a 
life. The young Frenchmen of 1919, Breton and the others, 

108 Age of Surrealism 

returned from war, having learned there how to attach 
very little importance to matters considered important in 
terms of peace. Their greatest sacrifice had been the sac- 
rifice of thought, and they immediately turned upon their 
philosophers and poets and demanded of them the same 
sacrifice. Having fought, as they were told, for ideas, for 
the safety of democracy, for example, they turned against 
ideas in a paradoxical but recognizable psychic reaction. 
There is a kind of humor which is visible at the most 
solemn and even tragic moments of existence. Nerves can't 
stand too much tension and often are relieved by a para- 
doxical explosion. The comic aspect of early surrealism 
and its program of destruction so often carried out as an 
embittered joke, may well be explained in this way. 

5. The fifth belief is essentially psychological in 
nature. It is concerned with the distinction between the 
self and the ego. The French words soi and moi are per- 
haps clearer translations of these two terms. The self (soi), 
as opposed to the ego (le moi, or the consciously aware be- 
ing of man), is composed of all manner of powers stolen 
from man's conscience and kept separate from any control 
of conscience and consciousness. This self is the area, or 
the arena, if we use the image of Freud, in which a signifi- 
cant and central fight is waged. Freud calls it the fight 
between Eros or the instinct of love, and the instinct of 
death or self-destruction, which we discussed in connection 
with Mallarme's Herodiade. This is the area or arena 
where the permanent myths of man, as we saw in Lautrea- 
mont, are recognized and reenacted. It is precisely here in 
this domain of the self, as separate from the domain of the 
ego, that the surrealist believes he may take down the dic- 
tation of his thought during a time when there is a total 
absence of any control exercised by his reason or by any 
aesthetic or moral code. It is the absence of any consciously- 
arrived-at codification. This activity of the self might easily 
be compared with what Baudelaire said about the image- 

Breton 109 

provoking power of opium. The images induced by opium 
are surrealistic in that they rise up spontaneously and des- 
potically without the man (smoker) invoking them. They 
are involuntarily generated images. 


These five categories of belief might 
serve as the theoretical bases of surrealism. They were 
evoked and discussed during a period of fervent artistic 
activity and experimentation. Each one corresponds to ex- 
periments and quarrels and expositions and exposures. Sur- 
realism might conveniently be analyzed in its history of 
scandals and manifestoes. 

The movement, in anything that resembles an organi- 
zation or conscious group activity, seems to have been 
initiated by its "sleep period," by its so-called epoque 
des sommeils. This was experimentation with sleep and 
dreams, a whole new manner of thinking, in which the 
sleeper or dreamer might experience unprecedented images 
in their strangeness and richness. Some, and especially 
Robert Desnos, who was champion in this trick, learned 
how to fall asleep at will and hence live, whenever he 
wished, in a surrealist panorama of dream-images which 
he had not willfully induced. The dream-image of the sub- 
conscious eliminated for the surrealists any enigmatical 
character of prophecies and dreams, in the Bible, for ex- 
ample. They could see a poetic unity joining such words 
as Nebuchadnezzar's dream in the book of Daniel, and the 
revelation made to St. John on the island of Patmos, and 
Les Chants de Maldoror, and Une Saison en Enfer. 

By the time of Breton's first manifesto, in 1924, the sur- 
realist attack on the novel, as a form of art, was in full 
swing. The form of the novel, as exemplified by a Balzac, 
answered man's craving for logic and description wherein 
false and ludicrous practices would be employed such as 
giving a name and an age to a character. It is apparent that 

110 Age of Surrealism 

a surrealist, accustomed to living in a dream-world where 
factors of time and space are not rigorous, would deplore 
an art in which the physical setting for an action would be 
minutely described. 

Anatole France died in this same year of the first sur- 
realist manifesto. He served the surrealists as a horrible 
example of conventional writer whose art was empty and 
false. In a pamphlet, lugubriously called Un Cadavre, they 
went to work to achieve the artistic demise of Anatole 
France. This attack on one of the most loved and eminent 
writers of the day brought attention to the surrealists and 
their potentialities as iconoclasts. In the good French tra- 
dition they had chosen a cafe where they congregated reg- 
ularly, the Cyrano, at the Place Blanche, conveniently near 
the rue Fontaine where Andre Breton, their acknowledged 
and self-appointed leader, was living. The Place Blanche is 
a section of Paris frequented by prostitutes, pimps, and 
circus people. The Cirque Medrano, a favorite spot for the 
surrealists, was close by. 

It was approximately the following year, 1925, that some 
respectful attention began to be paid to the surrealists from 
those outside their ranks. Both Eluard and Aragon were 
assuming the proportions of poets. Max Ernst and Andr£ 
Masson were being approached by art dealers. It looked 
as though surrealism might even pay. I believe this was 
the year that Breton read Trotsky's book on Lenin and 
announced his allegiance to the Communist Party. His ap- 
proval of the Russian Revolution is quite audible in the 
new name he devised for the contemporary world: "the 
period," as he called it, "of Lautreamont, Freud, and 

The year 1928 is generally singled out as the year of 
pronounced surrealist achievement Their rival movement 
in popularity and notoriety was the Catholic revival among 
intellectuals and artists. Conversions and reconversions 
had made almost a vogue out of Catholicism. The exam- 

Breton 111 

pies of such men as Maritain, Massis, and Cocteau (who 
at least temporarily reoccupied his place at mass) did not 
prevent the surrealists from denouncing bitterly and un- 
remittingly any religious solution to the problems of mod- 
ern man. By this time surrealism had been in current 
fashion long enough to have circulated misleading em- 
phasis and belief about itself. However, in all justice, it 
must be said that the surrealists themselves have been 
largely responsible for some of the misconceptions about 
surrealism. They flaunt a startling theory or practice be- 
fore the public, and then when the slow-moving public 
mind finally accepts or understands the theory, the sur- 
realists begin denying it and accusing the public of falsi- 
fication or over-simplification. This is the period when the 
surrealists vociferously attacked all the various stands or 
beliefs with which the public wanted to associate them: 
Freudianism, relativism, gratuitousness of thought and ex- 
pression, the cult of Rimbaud, the mania for suicide, auto- 
matic writing. 

The surrealists are irked by having their work defined 
and categorized. To name a theory, as to name a character 
in a novel, is to limit its freedom, to diminish its vitality 
and meaning. The surrealist's fear of academic definition 
is another aspect of his love of freedom. It is true that sur- 
realism is a state of mind or a view about art which is 
constantly changing and growing. Its adherents and de- 
tractors move about as men on a chessboard. The actual 
works of surrealist art, poems and paintings, seem always 
to be overshadowed by the stronger works of a polemical 
nature, by the argumentative and only slightly disguised 
didactic works, such as Aragon's brilliant Traite du Style 
of this same crucial year, 1928. 

The second manifesto of 1930 enlarged somewhat the 
scope of the surrealist program, but gave especially the in- 
spired statement, already quoted, about the point which 
the mind must reach in its unifying and uniting power. 

112 Age of Surrealism 

One senses in this second document that the fight has really 
been fought, that it is a more verbalized and philosophical 
expression of the strong program of the first manifesto. 
Breton now rejects all the early patronages of Rimbaud, 
Baudelaire, Poe, Sade. He excommunicates more abun- 
dantly than ever, and allies himself closely with the revolu- 
tionists. But those whom the leader castigates, join forces 
against him, and Breton himself is the object of an attack 
by surrealists. A pamphlet against him, given ominously 
the same name as the earlier one against Anatole France, 
Un Cadavre, is full of personal animosities and party jeal- 
ousies. Among those who participated in the effort were 
Queneau, Desnos, Prevert. 

They fought among themselves, but let one be attacked 
by any outside force, and they would all rally generously 
to his defence. This happened in 1931, when Aragon, who 
had attended the 2nd International Congress in Karkhov, 
published his poem Front Rouge, and was prosecuted for 
provoking or extolling assassination. Breton, supported by 
his followers, led the defence with the watertight surrealist 
thesis that since a poem is the manifestation of the sub- 
conscious, the author cannot be held responsible for it. At 
the conclusion of this "Affaire," Aragon withdrew from 
surrealism in order to become whole-heartedly communist. 

But if surrealism lost in 1931 an important figure, it had 
gained a few years before, a luminary from Spain, Salvador 
Dali, a kind of "enfant terrible/' of the movement. From 
the outset he was the scandalizer and practical joker, but 
in creative terms one of the most prodigiously gifted of all 
the surrealists. Natively he was surrealist before becoming 
one literally in Paris. When he was a student at the Madrid 
School of Fine Arts, his teacher gave the class one day the 
subject of a Gothic Virgin to paint. Dali painted a pair of 
scales, and when the teacher remonstrated, the premature 
surrealist replied that if the others saw a Virgin, he saw a 
pair of scales. 

Breton 113 

Dali had been interested in the Italian Futurist school 
and especially in the other Italian school, headed by Chi- 
rico and Carra, known as the scuola metafisica. This school, 
with its emphasis on the inner perceptiveness and meta- 
physical concern of the painter, was an excellent back- 
ground for surrealism. On his first visit to Paris in 1928, 
he met Picasso, and when he returned the same year, he 
met Miro and the writers Desnos and Eluard. He found 
immediately a vocation in surrealism which opened up to 
him many means by which to discredit the world of reality. 
In Freud, he read a justification for the intense love he 
had always felt for his childhood, for the terrors and ecsta- 
sies of his childhood. He learned, as a very special revela- 
tion, about the womb-like protection which sleep affords. 
Enthusiastically he accepted the leadership of Andre" Bre- 
ton and the principal doctrines of the manifestoes. 

Dali added a further term to surrealist jargon: his pri- 
vate method which he called paranoiac-criticism. He always 
insisted that he was much more the madman than the som- 
nambulist. His method sounds at first like accredited sur- 
realism when he claims spontaneous and irrational knowl- 
edge, but when he bases it on an interpretive -critical 
association of phenomena which arises from states of de- 
lirium, he is adding to original surrealism a paranoiac sen- 
sitivity. The hidden meanings which Dali finds in the 
phenomena he studies, come to him, he claims, from tem- 
porary states of insanity. The paranoiac is the man who 
appears to have a normal kind of health and attitude, but 
who privately is fashioning the world in accordance with 
his own desire and the imperiousness of his desire. 

Dali directed his paranoiac criticism on the legend of 
William Tell, which, rather than illustrating for him 
paternal love, is an example of incestuous mutilation. He 
saw in Millet's famous painting of the Angelus an exam- 
ple not of religious humility but of sexual repression, and 
uses it in paintings of his own to stand for that idea. He 

114 Age of Surrealism 

was interested in combining the worlds of the animate 
and the inanimate, and hence in his painting of Vermeer, 
the painter, whom Dali admired unreservedly and whose 
technique he imitates closely, he represents Vermeer as a 
ghost extending a leg which becomes a table. Movie tech- 
nique has employed this interpenetration of the animate 
and inanimate, and Dali, who, contrary to Matisse who at- 
tends the movies frequently in order to forget his labors, 
goes very frequently, but for stimulation and inspiration. 
One of the striking Dali objects at the International Exposi- 
tion was a taxi in which sat the wax figure of Columbus. 
Rain was constantly falling in the taxi and drenching the 
immobile Columbus. The work, which was hooted at, takes 
on some meaning when one realizes that Dali believed 
Columbus, like himself, was a paranoiac. By his conviction 
that the world was round and by his voyages which there- 
fore would be endless, Columbus revealed his fear of per- 
secution and his hope that he might always escape from his 

By 1935, so many of the surrealists had joined the Com- 
munist Party that the movement itself seemed to be allied 
with the cause of communism. The statements of Marx 
about the need of world revolution were said to find sup- 
port in Rimbaud's sentence that life had to be changed 
(il faut changer la vie). The advent of Dali had brought 
a second youth or new impetus to surrealism. The reign 
of the "marvellous" in art (le merveilleux, as Breton called 
it) which came from man's passiveness and submission to 
his subconscious, seemed to have definitely displaced sym- 
bolism, with its emphasis on artificiality or contrived 
artfulness. The International Exposition of 1938 was the 
culmination of surrealism, when seventy artists from four- 
teen countries were represented. It was a success despite 
the wrath and acrimony of many of the critics. The war 
dispersed the surrealists. Breton, Eluard, and P£ret were 
mobilized at the beginning, in 1939. But Breton soon came 

Breton 115 

to New York, where he broke completely with Dali, and 
where he founded the surrealist magazine VVV, which had 
a brief existence. P£ret spent the war years in Mexico; 
Tanguy and Masson in Connecticut; most of the others 
remained in France. 


In addition to his critical and polemical 
writings Breton has produced works of a more purely cre- 
ative nature, which are not only independent works of art, 
among the best written of the century, but are also illus- 
trative of the surrealist preoccupations. There is especially 
Nadja, first published in 1928, another work of that central 
year in the history of surrealism. I should like to describe 
the book briefly and then relate it to the manifestoes: to 
the promises and the principles of surrealism. 

Nadja is divided into two parts: a long preamble or in- 
troduction of seventy pages which is almost half of the 
book, and then the story, if so meagre a narrative can be 
called a story, about the character Nadja. 

The introduction is a kind of illustrated essay on sur- 
realism, a preparation for the strange tale Breton is going 
to give of his encounter with Nadja. The opening sen- 
tence is a question: Qui suis-je? ("Who am I?"), which 
I have mentioned in other contexts as being the key 
question in all aspects of modernism, whether it be sur- 
realism or existentialism, as opposed to the key ques- 
tion of the preceding age: "What should I do?" The in- 
quiry about action has shifted to the inquiry about being. 
There is throughout surrealism a deep metaphysical con- 
cern, not usually couched in philosophical terms, but pres- 
ent nonetheless and distinctly audible in the early pages of 
Nadja, where Breton answers his own question by saying 
that he is going to learn a small part of what he has for- 
gotten. But his attempt of memory and recollection is 
going to be involuntary. He is going to remember effort- 

116 Age of Surrealism 

lessly what happened to him, relate it without commentary 
and without investigation, and hence hope to arrive at 
some knowledge of what constitutes his differences from 
other men, his uniqueness in this world where everything 
and every being seem to be patterned and standardized. 

His method therefore will be to speak without any pre- 
determined order and plan, to embark with one strand of 
memory and to proceed with whatever forces itself on his 
consciousness. His point of departure is to be the Hotel des 
Grands Hommes at the Place du Pantheon, where he lived 
about 1918. But before actually beginning, Breton refers 
to an unrelated series of episodes in his life which came 
about by an extraordinary and mysterious chance of co- 
incidence. One of these might suffice as example. At the 
premiere of an Apollinaire play (Couleur du Temps), 
Breton was speaking in the balcony with Picasso during 
the intermission, when a young man broke into their con- 
versation and immediately excused himself by saying that 
he had mistaken Breton for a friend who had been killed 
in the war. Soon after that, Breton, through a mutual 
friend, began corresponding with Paul Eluard whom he 
had never met. When he did finally meet him, on a leave 
from the army, Eluard turned out to be the same fellow 
who had spoken to him at the theatre. 

Several stories and reminiscences of this nature skillfully 
induce in the reader the mood of surreality in which to 
read the illusory tale of Nadja. It begins on the rue La- 
fayette, in the late afternoon of the 4th of October when 
Breton is walking aimlessly in the direction of the Opera. 
Suddenly he sees, about ten steps away, a young woman 
poorly dressed, who looks at him at the same time. She has 
beautiful eyes, curiously made up, and Breton speaks to 
her without hesitation. She pretends that she is going to a 
hairdresser on the boulevard Magenta, but he knows and 
she knows he knows that she was going nowhere. They sit 
down on the terrace of a cafe near the Gare du Nord where 

Breton 117 

she relates various fragments of her life. The name she 
chose for herself is Nadja, which in Russian, is the begin- 
ning of the word for hope. When they are about to sepa- 
rate, Breton asks Nadja the question which according to 
him, stands for and summarizes all questions: Qui etes- 
vous? ("Who are you?"), the very question with which he 
had begun the book, and which this time receives a worthy 
answer, when Nadja replies: Je suis Vame errante ("I am 
the wandering soul"). 

The next day they meet at a rendezvous at a bar on the 
corner of the rue Lafayette and the faubourg Poissonniere. 
Nadja accompanies Breton home in a taxi and leaves him 
at the door. She says that she is going first to return to the 
place where they began at the rue Lafayette and the fau- 
bourg Poissonniere. They had fixed a rendezvous for the 
6th of October, but before the time appointed, they met 
by accident on a different street, rue de la Chaussee d'An- 
tin. She confesses that she had planned not to come to the 
rendezvous. No meeting was fixed for the 7th, but from 
a taxi Breton felt he had seen her turning down a street. 
He followed his hunch and found her. This is the kind of 
meeting that continues to occur for several days: fortuito us, 
almost resembling an intervention on the part of destiny. 
There are only rapid glances into Nadja's life of debts and 
distress and childishness. She disappears only to reappear 
unexpectedly. Often, when they are seated at a cafe she 
draws herself with the features of Melusine and feels that 
she is close to that mythical character. By means of the 
brief diary-like entrances of his meetings with Nadja, Bre- 
ton draws a mental landscape where it is impossible to see 
any clear demarcation between sanity and madness. Even 
after Nadja has been committed to an asylum, Breton con- 
tinues to think of her as the one character who was not 
enigmatical, the one who by the strange power she had of 
substituting herself for other characters passed beyond the 
state of enigma. "Beauty," he tells us in the last sentence 

118 Age of Surrealism 

of the book, "will be convulsive, or will not be." (La 

beaute sera CONVULSIVE ou ne sera pas.) 

Nadja, as a piece of writing, seems to escape the narrow 
limiting aspect of surrealism which demands that a book 
adhere to the one process of automatic writing and dicta- 
tion, and to reach a larger view of the doctrine, which is 
a philosophical attitude and even mystical attitude. A 
chance meeting on the street of a man and a woman, an 
event which I am confident would be called in one kind of 
language a "pick-up," becomes the source of a new kind 
of poetry of incoherences. A "pick-up," which on one level 
of existence is thoroughly commonplace or even vulgar, 
might become the source of deep happiness and exultant 
discovery. The movies have made out of this theme a real 
kind of beauty. It often happens that when we are waiting 
for someone, in, say, Grand Central Station, the people 
who go by and whom we are, alas, not waiting for, are far 
more attractive and mysterious than the one we are wait- 
ing for. Surrealism, and movie technique in so far as it is 
surrealistic, provides for the lyrical transformations of real- 
ity, for all those chance meetings, unpredictable, unusual, 
out of which a new meaning of life may be evolved. In 
such meetings we make up stories 1 about ourselves, as 
Nadja did, who in her partial state of dementia was prob- 
ably falsifying many things: but lies, under such condi- 
tions, reveal some of the deepest truths about ourselves, 
truths we are unable to face when we talk with people who 
know the facts of our biography and our background. 

If the realist is concerned with establishing the contact 
between a man and his life (the physical objects and forces 
which touch his life), the surrealist is concerned with es- 
tablishing the contact between a poet and his destiny (the 
physical objects and the supernatural forces which form 
his destiny). This latter, the coming together of an artist 
and his destiny is always the mark of a great work of art. , 
One has to break with the things that are in order to unite \ 

Breton 119 

with the things that may be. Breton, in his first manifesto 
defined man as that "definitive dreamer" (I'homme ce 
reveur definitif). Poetry, if there is to be poetry, has to be 
conquered in the midst of great danger. It is comparable 
to the chance meeting of a man and woman on a Paris 
sidewalk, comparable to the danger for the man in the 
mystery and the unknowable in the woman's past. Poetry 
is the domain of the marvellous (le merveilleux) which 
becomes so familiar that it becomes real. The surrealists 
refrain from analyzing this experience of the marvellous 
in order to safeguard and preserve the power of the im- 
agination, and thereby belong to the tradition of the 
visionaries (of the voyants) who see without explaining. 
The initial question which Breton asks himself in Nadja: 
"Who am I?" might easily be transcribed in the light of 
the story by "Whom do I haunt? Whom do I go with? 
Whom do I see in my dreams?" Because the ineffable or 
the unspeakable is always stifling the poets, they have to 
cheat. Surrealism is a most honorable form of cheating. 
The poet jumps from the invisible to the visible, from 
the angel to man, from Nadja or Melusine to woman. His 
uniqueness, and this is discernible in such a work as Nadja, 
is his symbol-making power of the savage forces which are 
in us and which the social machine suppresses. So, the 
poet is the prestidigitator but one who always works with 
his sleeves rolled up. And this name of prestidigitator leads 
us quite naturally to the case of Jean Cocteau. 

VII • COCTEAU: the theatre 


Like a true citizen and genius of the 
Renaissance, like one of Castiglione's perfect courtiers, 
Jean Cocteau is a man of many parts and diversified ac- 
complishments. He is poet, critic, novelist, draftsman, 
actor, play producer, movie director. But his greatest role, 
that on which I believe his fame will have its surest foun- 
dation, is playwright. Cocteau is essentially a man of the 
theatre. The universe he has created is opposed to the 
natural universe. He is seen best in the artificial light of 
the stage, from the confined night world of the theatre 
where a very secret alliance is formed between actors and 
spectators, and where a still more mysterious connivance 
is established between that ill-assorted but all necessary 
trio: the author, the cast and the audience. I don't know 
how the miracle is produced, but it often seems to be that 
Cocteau is all three at once: magician, rabbit, and de- 
lighted child-spectator. 

For thirty years — it is impossible, by the way, that this 
boy is growing old — he has produced in Paris at regular 
intervals plays of great diversity. Even a partial list is im- 
pressive: the now distant Parade of 1917, a ballet written 


in collaboration with Satie and Picasso and presented by 
the Ballet Russe in the Chatelet; Le Boeuf sur le Toit, a 
pantomime with collaboration, this time, from Darius Mil- 
haud and Dufy, played by the clowns Fratellini at the 
Com£die des Champs-Elys£es, in 1920; Les Marie's de la 
Tour Eiffel, hailed in 1931, as a surrealist play; his three 
plays on Greek themes, where Cocteau is the real fore- 
runner of the contemporary interest in the Greek thea- 
tre illustrated in the works of Giraudoux, Anouilh, and 
Sartre: his plays Antigone of 1922, with music of Honeg- 
ger and settings of Picasso; Orphee of 1926, played by 
the Pitoeffs; La Machine Infernale of 1934, his greatest 
achievement, perhaps, in the theatre. Then, just before 
the war, in marked contrast to his Greek plays Les Parents 
Terribles, an excursion to the "theatre de boulevard." 
During the German occupation, his new work Renaud et 
Armide, played at the Com^die-Franc.aise, seemed an ex- 
ample of the French classical theatre. At the beginning of 
1947, exactly thirty years after his debut with Parade, 
Cocteau was holding first place in the theatrical season in 
Paris by occupying two large theatres and selling out every 
night: Les Parents Terribles, in a revival of tremendous 
success at the Gymnase; and his newest play, L'Aigle a 
Deux Tetes, in the Theatre H£bertot. 

This last play, presented in New York in translation 
and hence in inferior form, with Tallulah Bankhead, is 
still a different kind of writing for Cocteau, a romantic 
melodrama, and this time, more immediately than usual, 
he converted a large public in Paris to his work. The crit- 
ics have been divided, but that is usual in Cocteau's case, 
and even those who dislike the play, seem certain that it 
will continue for more than one hundred years. The story, 
like that of Victor Hugo's Ruy Bias, out of which Cocteau 
is now making a film, is the tragic love between a queen 
and a man of the people. He said that he wanted to write 
a, play about an anarchist queen and an anarchist with a 

122 Age of Surrealism 

royal soul. L'Aigle a Deux Tites is a new proof of Cocteau's 
extraordinary sense of the theatre, of the uncanny rela- 
tionship he is able to create between a text and a public. 

His career, which one day will be studied with the mi- 
nuteness and critical acumen it deserves, is one long series 
of ruses in artificiality, so prepared and carried out that 
he has become the legend of himself before his time. He 
is the city or the urban poet. More than that, he is the poet 
of a small closed-in space, of a room, of a child's room 
peopled with phantoms. That room easily became the 
stage, when the child grew up, where in the limited space 
between the footlights and the backdrop he could con- 
tinue to play with phantoms who spoke words he devised 
for them, in order to create and recreate an illusory world. 

A Cocteau play is the demonstration of a mystery. His 
real voice has often been heard in actual performances of 
the plays. He recited the part of the chorus in Antigone, 
for example, through a hole in the center of the set. It is 
his voice that is heard in The Blood of a Poet. Even in 
the most serious plays, the principal scenes are converted 
into seances of prestidigitation through the writer's per- 
sistent need to amaze and startle. The secret connivance 
by which he captivates the public is always something in 
the form of a miracle. His theatre is close, closer than that 
of any other contemporary dramatist, to the original and 
ancient function of drama: that of religious ceremonial, 
during which the myths of the people will be reenacted. 
People are joined with one another only in the presence 
of a miracle. This function of the theatre was once purely 
religious, and in the age of surrealism, Cocteau religiously 
created magic out of the theatre. The simplest of objects, 
when placed together in startling juxtapositions, create a 
surrealist decor and upset the monotonous routine of daily 
life. Cocteau presents the most commonplace objects, but 
from such a new or surrealist angle, that the spectator may 
well believe in the presentation of something new. Puns, 

Cocteau 123 

enigmas, puzzles, oracles, tricks, coincidences, premoni- 
tions are all means of satisfying our permanent appetite 
for a miracle, for a wonder-working change of the usual. 
This deep human need which the theatre is able to satisfy, 
has always been consciously and brilliantly exploited by 

Not only in his plays, but in his life as well, Cocteau has 
played the prestidigitator. By his voice when he is actor, 
by his opium, by his conversion, by his conversations, by 
his remarkable friendships, he is constantly changing his 
world. His personal genius is like the surrealist genius of 
Giorgio di Chirico, who in his paintings creates a magical 
world where a Greek temple may cohabit with a glass- 
covered wardrobe, where a perspective and trompe-Voeil 
convert a familiar world into a mystery. 

Poetry Cocteau has called the secular mystery (le mys- 
tere laic), because the poet, like the alchemist and the 
astrologer, has his fetishes and his miraculous tricks. The 
ultimate miracle to be achieved by a poem is its self-suffi- 
ciency. Words lose their usual meanings and connotations 
by cutting themselves off from their native world, by sever- 
ing all the bonds which hold them back. Then they are 
able to mount platonically toward their essences away from 
their objective forms. This theory invites the image of 
magic. The poem finally exists alone, as a trick does, as a 
house of cards, without any of the usual props. Words of 
a poem bear the minimum of their daily alliances. This 
research in magic might also be called the search of preci- 
osity where a word will exist in a new and unpredictable 

Cocteau belongs natively not to Bohemian Montmartre 
or Montparnasse, but to the section of the Champs-Elysees. 
His Paris is the elegance of the Madeleine, or, in his won- 
der world, the flora and fauna of the deep ocean. His leg- 
end of scandal and surprise has been eagerly promulgated 
by the Paris public, but behind the legend is a man guided 

124 Age of Surrealism 

by his sense of proportion and purity and labor. His debut 
was like the eruption of a ballet russe. He was ushered into 
the world of art as a brilliant feted genius. His first real 
teacher was Picasso through whom avowedly he learned 
the low depths of his bad taste and the universe of beauty 
which up until his meeting with Picasso he had not known. 
The deepest part of our life seems to be formed by an en- 
counter with some person, very often a chance encounter 
with the one being who is able to illuminate what we had 
always been looking at without seeing. 

The early examples of painting and music, especially 
those of Picasso and Erik Satie, turned Cocteau, at the 
very beginning of his career, in 1917-18, into a critic. His 
critical method, which he has developed throughout his 
life, is comparable to his poetic method in that it must per- 
form a kind of chemical action whereby the critic will dis- 
cover the unknown and hidden forces of a work of art, 
whereby he will reveal the spiritual climate pervading the 
work. This definition of the artist by which he is seen to 
be the man in contact with the obscure powers which 
engender an art may explain somewhat the statement of 
Picasso that the technical aspect of the profession is what 
can't be learned: le metier c'est ce qui ne s'apprend pas. 
By metier is usually meant the rules and habits, all the 
mechanical devices by which a work is assured. In other 
words, the metier is usually that which is taught, and 
Picasso, in his maxim, seemingly overthrows a well-estab- 
lished belief. The career of Cocteau illustrates perhaps 
what Picasso means. Each new book of his has been dif- 
ferent from all the others. The metier in this sense is the 
art, which is not an experience but an experiment, an 
attempt, a risk. The works of Cocteau form a series of at- 
tempts and experiments, of tricks that may come off or 
may not. And this might well be said for Picasso and for 
every great artist who inevitably gambles on a chemical 

Cocteau 125 


From the work of Cocteau, which has by 
now reached considerable proportions, I propose to choose 
two examples, a play and a film, to illustrate the miracu- 
lous aspect of his art. They are both defiances of public 
opinion, the play in the 1920's and the movie in the 1930's, 
and they have both by now won a public for themselves. 
They are two works on the subject of death, or at least 
they are works which make a magical representation of the 
world of death. 

The play, Orphe'e, was first performed at the Theatre 
des Arts in 1926, with Georges Pitoeff as Orpheus and his 
wife Ludmilla Pitoeff as Eurydice. The tragedy, as the 
prologue tells us, is played very high up in the air. That 
means, its action is as purely magical as could be devised. 
Like a poem, in the Cocteau sense, it has cut itself off from 
all material and realistic strategies, and, like some trapeze 
formation, it is enacted in a sphere other than the usual 
one. And yet, as in a tight-rope stunt, we recognize familiar 
beings and occurrences: a man, a woman, a horse, a win- 
dow-repairer. But the danger exists throughout the tragedy 
that the players may fall, and our excitement is enhanced 
by knowing that there is no net to catch them. 

Orpheus and Eurydice are engaged in a domestic quar- 
rel. On the one hand, Orpheus is under the spell of a horse, 
an unusual horse which has given him such a strange mes- 
sage that he is going to immortalize it in poetry. And Eu- 
rydice is under the spell of a wicked woman in town, Aglao- 
nice, who seems to be bewitching all the women. When 
Orpheus recites to his wife the mysterious phrase of the 
horse, Madame Eurydice reviendra des enfers ("Mme. 
Eurydice will come back from hell"), the whole action is 
thrown into the future, or higher into the air than ever. 
The sense of the supernatural grows stronger and we are 
willingly convinced that the actions we watch are being 

126 Age of Surrealism 

dictated by the gods. The context seems to be both super- 
natural and comically natural. Orpheus as well as the spec- 
tators feel the need of a bomb or a scandal to clear the air. 
The quarrel culminates when Orpheus darkly suggests that 
Eurydice breaks a pane of glass each day in order to have 
the window repairer come up. He himself breaks the win- 
dow this day and leaves his wife with Heurtebise. We be- 
gin to see the multiple services and uses of this man. He 
has brought from Aglaonice some poison, in the form of 
a piece of sugar, for the horse, and a self -addressed enve- 
lope in which Eurydice is to return a compromising letter. 
Just before the poison is administered to the horse, Or- 
pheus returns unexpectedly for his birth certificate. Heur- 
tebise jumps on a chair and pretends to be busy at the 
broken window. When Orpheus absent-mindedly removes 
the chair, the man remains quite placidly suspended in the 
air, and in a few moments the chair is put back under him. 
But Eurydice has seen all. It was not enough to have a 
speaking horse in the house, now she has a friend who is 
able to float in the air. We begin to realize that the large 
panes of glass which Heurtebise carries strapped on his 
back are perhaps wings. Orpheus has gone out again, but 
Eurydice, for whom all mystery is an enemy, has lost con- 
fidence in her friend. She licks the envelope for Aglaonice, 
only to collapse a few minutes later. She has been poisoned 
by Aglaonice who with her wicked women are gradually 
taking on in the play the form of the bacchantes. Heurte- 
bise puts Eurydice in her room and goes out to find 

The action of the play has been slowly accelerating ever 
since the beginning, but we become especially aware of its 
increased tempo in the next central scene, when Death, as 
a beautiful woman in evening dress, with her two aids 
dressed as surgeons, Raphael and Azrael, come in to per- 
form the death of Eurydice. Death first gives the sugar to 
the horse who disappears, and then enacts a ceremonial 

Cocteau 127 

half-surgical, half-mythical on the absent body of Eurydice. 
It is over and they have gone, when Orpheus and Heurte- 
bise return. When Orpheus in his grief swears that he will 
take his wife away from death, Heurtebise says that there 
is a way, since Death forgot to take with her her rubber 
gloves which are still on the table. The way to Death is 
through the mirror, and Orpheus, wearing the rubber 
gloves, enters the mirror, and disappears for a second of 
our time when the mailman delivers a letter to Heurte- 
bise. Orpheus comes back through the mirror leading 
Eurydice. Only one detail has to be remembered: Orpheus 
must never look at his wife or she will disappear. But the 
myth is inexorable, for this is exactly what happens dur- 
ing the course of the renewed domestic quarrel. Orpheus, 
alone with Heurtebise, now reads the letter which had 
come when he was in the realm of the dead. It is anony- 
mous and announces that Aglaonice and her women, in- 
furiated by discovering that the first letters of Orpheus' 
celebrated sentence, Madame Eurydice reviendra des en- 
ters, spell a vile word, are marching on his house and want 
his death. The play ends rapidly with the murder of 
Orpheus by the bacchantes and with the disappearance of 
his body. Only his head remains and finds its place on a 
pedestal. The last scene is in heaven where Heurtebise 
is undisguisedly the guardian angel and is taking lunch 
with his two wards, Orpheus and Eurydice, who have 
finally brought peace to their domestic situation. 

Such an action as I have just outlined, permits Cocteau 
to treat lightly and subtly very profound preoccupations 
and problems and causes of human anxiety. As children 
often do, Cocteau willfully tries to puzzle and perturb by 
the fantastic secrecy of his writing. A sentence in Breton's 
manifesto might apply to Orphee: "What is admirable in 
the fantastic is that it ends by becoming real." We are so 
accustomed to seeing miracles all around us, that we cease 
calling them miraculous. Picasso once said that a miracle 

128 Age of Surrealism 

occurred every time we take a bath. It is a miracle that a 
man doesn't dissolve in a tub of water as a piece of sugar 

Orphee is a meditation on death wherein Cocteau mi- 
raculously rescues death from disappearing in a void. We 
might say that in the play death escapes death or the fate 
of nothingness. Cocteau can usually be found wandering 
between life and the void. This is what is meant by Coc- 
teau's angelism, or the lesson of equilibrium he is always 
teaching. His favorite setting is the circus tight-rope, with 
heaven above and death below. He is the Parisian artist, 
the upstart who was trained by severe muses, but who has 
rid himself of all pedagogic traces. His simplicity is very 
deceptive. Orphee should be played with the swiftness and 
directness and ease of a trick in prestidigitation. But it is 
a play of condensed richness, a surrealist enactment of the 
most tender and the most profound myth of mankind: the 
descent of a living man into the realm of Death and his 
return from there. Men cannot accept truth directly. Coc- 
teau says in one of his aphorisms that truth is too naked: 
it has to be at least partially clothed in order to attract or 
excite men. (La verite est trop nue; elle n'excite pas les 
hommes.) It is almost in these terms that the surrealists 
attacked realism. 

I know of no more pathetic or moving interpretation of 
death in French literature than Cocteau's Orphee. This 
may seem like an exaggerated claim, but no other work 
succeeds so well as Orphee does for me in making of the 
myth of death, or the fantasy of death, something extraor- 
dinarily real. At the beginning of the play Orpheus is at- 
tracted toward death by the horse whose messages come 
from the realm of the dead, and then he is attracted toward 
it, more insistently still, by the death of Eurydice. Cocteau 
conceives of death as a magical substitution for life, as a 
passage through a mirror. The limits which separate life 
from death lose in his play all hardness and precision. The 

Cocteau 129 

swiftness of the action and the mathematical neatness with 
which everything is evolved are in themselves sufficient to 
create the illusion of the supernatural. Orpheus and Euryd- 
ice fulfill their destiny on time, as Cocteau, who has very 
little sense of the mystical, places his bet on the magic of 
the myth: conundrums, mirrors, poison. 


Cocteau's film, Le Sang d'un Poete, is a 
further preoccupation with the mysterious properties of 
statues and objects, and especially a further meditation on 
death. The title of the work is explained in the preface of 
the film. A poem, it says, is like heraldry or a coat of arms 
on which the symbols may be deciphered after the shed- 
ding of blood. The film is dedicated to certain painters of 
heraldry and blazons: Pisanello, Paolo Uccello, Piera della 
Francesca. (One remembers the surrealists' admiration for 

Here, more solemnly than in Orphee, Cocteau defines the 
poet as hierophant or as a priest whose function is to ini- 
tiate the public to mysteries. The film, which is made pub- 
lic, is about a poet whose secret symbols are distinguish- 
able only after the expenditure of his blood. This is not 
unlike the hermeticism practised by Mallarme in his priest- 
ess Herodiade. Nor is it unlike the art of surrealists who, 
content with expressing the language and image of dreams 
and of free association, do not seek to interpret the dreams 
or the images of their work. A mystery exists in itself and 
must be felt as a mystery. And thus with a poem, which if 
explicated and paraphrased ceases to be a poem. Fantasy 
may be enjoyed only as long as it remains fantasy and 
totally closed off from the logical and the rational. A poem, 
a mystery, a fantasy, or the film, Le Sang d'un Poete, may 
appear at first too inaccessible, too personal or private in its 
symbols. And precisely this charge was made of Cocteau's 
film: it was denounced as oneiric, as being incompre- 

130 Age of Surrealism 

hensive to anyone save Cocteau himself. But surrealism, 
largely because of its important affiliation with psycho- 
analysis, has taught that what is often called a personal 
symbol, occurring in the dreams of one individual, is really 
universal. We meet the past and the future in our dreams 
where nothing is absolutely private. Time has a oneness, a 
uniqueness. We actually live many more lives than our 
own. We are responsible for many more souls than our 

The tower which we see falling at the beginning of the 
film and whose collapse is completed at the end of the 
film, indicates that what we see in between is a dream or 
some psychic experience which cannot be denoted by the 
usual concept of time. The rapid tempo of Orphee and of 
Cocteau's plays in general, is here pushed even farther 
thanks to the art of the cinema. We have to suspend our 
usual belief about time in this film, where there is no date 
and where there are costumes of different periods, as well 
as our belief about natural laws, because we see a man go 
through a mirror as if it were water, as Orpheus did in 
the play, and a young girl fly up to the ceiling. Cocteau 
never forgets for long his symbols of deep-sea diving and 
of tight-rope walking. 

I. The film has four parts, the first of which is 
called: La main b lessee ou la cicatrice du poete ("the 
wounded hand or the poet's scar"). At the beginning of 
this part we hear Cocteau's voice say: "While the cannon 
at Fontenoy thundered in the distance, in a simple room. 
..." And the story begins with a young man, obviously 
the poet-hero, drawing sketches of a face. He is Cocteau, at 
least spiritually, because on his shoulder he bears Cocteau's 
star-signature as well as a scar, and graphically he is the 
movie hero, resembling Rudolph Valentino. After a knock 
is heard on his door, he notices that the mouth of his draw- 
ing is living, and tries to rub it off with his hand. The 
visitor, who is horrified, leaves almost immediately, and 


the artist sees that the mouth is now on the palm of his 
hand. It begins to breathe and ask for "air." The man 
kicks an opening through the window and puts his arm 
outside. But the mouth remains on the hand. With it the 
poet now caresses his body and falls asleep. On awakening 
he places his hand on the face of a woman's statue and the 
living mouth is transferred to hers. Her voice is heard to 
say: "Isn't it foolish to dry oneself on furniture? Isn't it 
foolish to awaken a statue from its sleep of centuries?" 

The central symbol of this part — the mouth, which orig- 
inally is drawn by the artist on paper, and then adheres to 
the palm of his hand and is finally clapped on the lips of a 
statue — combines the experience of eroticism and poetry. 
The mouth both kisses and speaks. It is used both to arouse 
the sensations and to transform them into art. It might 
well be a convenient symbol for the dual nature of art: the 
madness and the reason of art, the Dionysian and Apollo- 
nian aspects of art. It would represent the indulgence of 
sensuality and the origins of form. This first episode is also 
reminiscent of the myth of Pygmalion, whereby the cre- 
ated work of the artist takes on a life of its own and liter- 
ally ends by transcending the life of the artist. This is im- 
plied in the mysterious words of the statue, which awakens 
from a long sleep. A statue, as it is being made, is enslaved 
to the genius of the sculptor. It is almost victimized. But 
when the statue is completed and released, it becomes, in 
its turn, the victor and the master. The "sleep of centu- 
ries" is the sleep of the subconscious which awakens in 
dreams only to dominate and victimize the sleeper. 

II. The second episode is entitled: Les murs 
ont-ils des oreillesf ("Have the walls ears?") The mouth of 
the statue says: "Do you think it is so easy to get rid of a 
wound, to close the mouth of a wound?" The room is more 
than ever a prison for the artist's isolation. But the door 
becomes a mirror and he dives through the mirror as 
through water, as Orpheus did in the play. And this time, 

132 Age of Surrealism 

we follow the poet into his hell which appears as a hotel 
corridor. He becomes a voyeur in looking through four 
keyholes as he moves down the corridor. 

1. In the first room he sees a Mexican 
being assassinated by a firing squad. The film is then re- 
versed and we go backwards in the action of the shooting 
scene. The voice says: "At daybreak, Mexico, the boule- 
vard Arago, the ditches at Vincennes and a hotel are equiv- 
alent." The seeming free associations of four places are 
united by the ever-imminent possibility of life becoming 
death. Life continues by the very cycle of life-death-life. 
So, time continues and is reversed also. This second corri- 
dor scene is a kind of dream within a dream, or a movie 
within the movie. The eye of the artist-dreamer is the cam- 
era and his brain is filled with the pictures it records. 

2. The second room which the poet- 
voyeur observes is an opium den. Here again, it is the vi- 
sion of a dream, or the dream of a dream which he sees. 
An unwinking eye looks back at him. In a dream one is 
seen by what one sees. 

3. The third room is called lecons de 
vol ("flying lessons") in which we see a young girl pun- 
ished by a woman who is obviously a schoolteacher armed 
with a whip. The girl rises up to the ceiling from where 
she is able to mock her teacher. In dreams we are able to 
do what we dream of doing in life. 

4. The fourth scene, Un rendez-vous 
desespere, is the only one in which the poet ceases being 
a voyeur in order to participate in the action. We see a 
bull's eye revolving on a screen, a sofa with the head of a 
woman and legs of a man, a hand holding a revolver, and 
we hear a voice which gives the command to fire. After the 
explosion, the poet appears dressed with laurel and a robe 
— and the voice says: "I open the way to glory." Then he 
tears his laurel and robe, and returns through the water- 
mirror, as we hear the words: a typical Cocteau pun: "Mir- 

Cocteau 133 

rors ought to reflect a little before giving back their 
images." With an axe, the poet destroys the statue. And 
the voice ominously warns: "In breaking a statue, you risk 
becoming one yourself." (A casser une statue, on risque 
d'en devenir une.) 

These two episodes are united, and magically so, be- 
cause one is the world of the living and the other the world 
of the dead. They both take place in rooms or closed-in 
spaces which emphasize the mystery on which they are 
founded. The four scenes in the hotel all bear some rela- 
tionship to death: 1. the execution of the Mexican peasant; 
2. the opium death of consciousness and the senses; 3. the 
death by terror and sadism in the schoolteacher scene; 4. 
and finally the suicide of the poet. If the first episode of 
the speaking statue represents, among other things, the 
Pygmalion myth, the second episode of the hotel corridor 
represents the myth after Pygmalion. After the myth of the 
creation and life comes the myth of destruction and death. 
In his act of creation, a poet is inexorably destroyed by 
what he creates. 

III. The last two episodes are united as the first 
two are, and the setting this time is outside. In the part 
called "The snowball fight" (La bataille des boules de 
neige), Cocteau uses the opening scene of his novel, Les 
En] ants Terribles, and even the name of one of the charac- 
ters, Dargelos. During the course of the snowball fight be- 
tween school boys playing in a courtyard, a bronze statue 
disappears as if it had been made of snow. Dargelos, "the 
fighting cock of the class," the bully, stands beside the va- 
cant pedestal, strong and defiant, almost as if the hardness 
of the statue had gone into him. After Dargelos hurls a 
snowball, which he has made hard and icy, at his friend, he 
runs off. The voice says: "The snowball marked the heart 
of the victim, and marked the blouse of the victim erect in 
his solitude, the dark creator whom nothing protects." 

The fatal snowball is probably the origin of the poet's 

134 Age of Surrealism 

wound which we saw in the first episode where the hero 
appeared naked to the waist. The wound on the boy's heart 
changed to his shoulder in manhood and is confused with 
the star, which is Cocteau's personal signature of his work. 
The physical snowball wound symbolizes the spiritual 
heart wound of the boy who was in love with Dargelos, 
and hence victimized by him. Later, when the boy victim 
becomes poet- victor, the wound becomes star: the boy be- 
comes Cocteau. The boy, once victimized by the "coq" of 
the class, became Cocteau (a pun possible only in French). 
The literal experience which killed him, or which caused 
him to suffer, is transformed into the art-experience which 
makes him creator. In the first two episodes, the action per- 
petrated by the artist on the statue — first, in giving it life, 
and second, in destroying it — is now recapitulated in the 
third episode, which is a throwback to childhood when 
Dargelos, the hero-bully of the class, inspires love in his 
schoolmate and then kills him with a hard snowball. 

IV. The fourth and last episode of the film, La 
Carte Volee ("The Stolen Card"), is a continuation of the 
third. After seeing a statue come to life, we now witness 
the reverse: a living boy turn into a statue. The murdered 
boy lies on the snow, a kind of statue in death, with which 
the slayer, now the poet, is to be victimized. When the poet 
grows up, he is both Dargelos and the boy slain by Dar- 
gelos. A card table has been placed over the boy's body, 
and a scene takes place strongly reminiscent of the scene 
of Death and her two aids in Orphee. At the table, playing 
cards, are the hero, dressed in tails, and a woman in eve- 
ning dress, who is the statue. At some distance from them 
are two groups of people in open loges who follow the spec- 
tacle indifferently. The poet draws out from the coat of 
the boy under the table the ace of hearts. Any human ex- 
perience, hidden under its symbol, might be compared 
with a card trick, whereby an artist both realizes himself 
as artist and deceives the spectators. The people in the 

Cocteau 135 

loges represent the public's incapacity to follow the poet. 
A naked Negro, whose oiled body is in appropriate contrast 
with the snow of the scene, is the guardian angel or even 
possibly St. Michael himself, who takes the dead boy away. 
He plays the part of Heurtebise in Orphee in directing the 
action of the denouement. He takes the ace of hearts from 
the poet who shoots himself. The woman walks off and we 
see at the end of the film the bull of Europa, the lyre of 
the poet, the head of the woman now become a statue, and 
we hear the voice saying: ennui mortel de Vimmortalite 
("the mortal boredom of immortality"). 


Le Sang d'un Poete is a story in reverse 
action. We begin by seeing the poet. The first episode is 
dominated by the symbol of the mouth, which is the symbol 
of poetic speech. It is the story of poetic creation. The 
second episode, dominated by the symbol of the eye, is 
the effort of the poet to see into himself, to see back of the 
present and the symbol-laden poetry he is composing. The 
third episode is the specific scene of childhood which has 
dominated the poet's life, the scene in which he received 
his poet's wound, and which he has come upon in this deep 
exploration of himself and his past. Here the sense of touch 
is the most exalted in the film, both the sensation of mak- 
ing the hard snowball and of feeling its impact. The fourth 
episode is apothesis. The card trick might be taken as the 
symbol of art, surrounded by its various signs of immor- 
tality: the angel, Europa, the lyre. 

In a way, the film is a season in hell. But hell is con- 
ceived of as being within a man, an inner darkness of 
strange moving figures, quite independent from any theo- 
logical hell. All the writings of Cocteau, and not only the 
specific works of Orphee and Le Sang d'un Poete, raise 
the problem of artistic subterfuge, of the poetic lie or 
transformation. It is a central problem for every artist. 

136 Age of Surrealism 

Montaigne, Rousseau, and Gide advocate the need of 
confessing everything. A literary work should be a public 
avowal. Flaubert said just the opposite. In many of his 
letters to Louise Colet, he emphasizes his unwillingness 
to reveal anything of his personal life in his writings. The 
surrealist method of confession is the dream relation, the 
bringing to life of all the shadowy figures who stalk us in 
the obscure parts of our being. The pure surrealist method 
would be the direct narration of these experiences as they 
come to us in free association. Cocteau takes this method 
one step farther, or leads it to its necessary conclusion, by 
imposing on the confessional dream-world a very deliber- 
ate and calculated form. His works are formalized by a 
provocative relationship with the persistent myths. Myths 
come to life over and over when an artistic work has 
enough formal solidity to contain them. 

The difference between Montaigne's confession and a 
surrealist confession might be the difference between 
sincerity and lucidity. It is one thing to be sincere and 
another thing to be sufficiently lucid to have something 
to be sincere about. There is also the problem of having 
someone to be sincere to. Pascal pointed out, for example, 
that the Catholic Church doesn't oblige the sinner to tell 
his sins to everyone. Gide has pointed out that lying isn't 
one of the capital sins, and that Christ never formally 
forbade lying. 

In the soul of the lucid man, of the man who heeds both 
his conscious and subconscious states, there seems to be 
an equal proportion of tragedy and ambiguity. Much of 
surrealist art and Cocteau's theatre are concerned with the 
existence of ambiguity. In Cocteau's use of fables, he snares 
heroes, Orpheus, Oedipus, Pygmalion, Galahad, who are 
too gigantic for us and who have to be reduced somewhat 
by means of comedy and enigma. In one of his poems, he 
says: Je suis un mensonge qui dit la verite. ("I am a lie 
which is speaking the truth." Opera.) Art may well be that 

Cocteau 137 

form of a lie which leads us closer to truth. Montaigne in 
speaking of the make-up which women use, their disguise, 
as he calls it, makes the point that thereby deception is 
honorable. We are led to the truth by a false door. (Ill, V) 

The main struggle we go through each day is with those 
forces which prevent us from being authentic. The sur- 
realist believes that this struggle is resolved in the method 
of free association where we may have a revelation of the 
basic truths about ourselves. Of course, very few are able 
to stand these truths. Surrealism was first attacked on the 
grounds that it was not understandable. Then, when 
people began to realize that it was understandable, it was 
attacked on the grounds that it revealed too much, that 
there are some secrets about us which should be left 
secrets. As soon as truth begins to invade the realm of the 
taboo, it will be ostracized. 

I have often thought that The Blood of a Poet, and for 
that matter, all the writings of Jean Cocteau, might be ex- 
plained in terms of the Greek hero Philoctetes, the warrior 
who is wounded and who holds the bow in his hand. 
Philoctetes relates the ambiguous myth of the genius, who 
is both strength and weakness, who is both power and im- 
potency. It would seem that the genius of the artist has 
a propitiatory or sacrificial origin. Genius is allied with 
illness, and in many cases literally with the loss of blood. 
Strength cannot exist without mutilating itself. The writer 
is like the trapeze-artist who has to practice all day long 
in order not to break his neck at the evening performance. 
And so, the artist holds the very ancient privilege of fool 
and idiot and quasi-prophet. He reappears today as clown, 
voyou, voyeur, card-dealer, and as that newest incarnation 
of magician: the movie director. 

VIII - ELUARD: the doctrine on love 


In February of 1917, Max Ernst, a Ger- 
man artilleryman, was engaged in bombarding, at the dis- 
tance of a kilometer, a trench in which Paul Eluard, a 
French infantry soldier, was standing guard. Three years 
later, Max Ernst, the surrealist painter, and Paul Eluard, 
the surrealist poet, were friends in Paris, engaged in a 
movement which for them went far beyond aesthetic doc- 
trine and criteria. It was taking on for them the form and 
the potentiality of the total emancipation of man. 

It seemed for a moment, at least in the early part of its 
history, that surrealism was obliterating the solitude of the 
artist, of that special kind of solitude which I described in 
the second chapter as the most important characteristic 
of the modern artist. True poetry for the surrealists was 
seen to be a part of every force which was working for the 
liberation of man. The poet was no longer the inspired 
man; he was the one who inspires. And because he is 
involved in the life of every man, in the common life, his 
art seeks to reduce the differences which exist between 
men. The most exultant claim which the surrealists made 
for poetry is this absolute force it possesses for purifying 

Eluard 139 

man. Eluard and the other surrealist poets often repeated 
Lautreamont's statement that poetry must be made by all 
and not by one man. If surrealism is, according to one of 
its major propositions, an instrument of knowledge, it 
must work to reveal the profoundest conscience of man. 
Knowledge of self will lead to knowledge of all men and 
from there to the union of all men. 

If we say that the greatest fear of man is that of losing his 
freedom, we may say the same thing about poetry. 
Throughout its long history, which appears to be quite as 
long as the history of man himself, poetry has always 
trembled at not possessing sufficient freedom, at having 
to give up some precious part of itself to the institutions 
of man: to religion, to politics, to morality. Poetry fights 
for its purity as man fights for his freedom, and both are 
usually degraded. The history of poetry (and we might 
say the same thing about the history of man) is so exclu- 
sively the history of its degradations, when it was made the 
accomplice in very subtly arranged compromises, that we 
hardly know what poetry, in its pure state, is. Poetry has 
been allowed to exist only when it would renounce or en- 
slave some part of its being. — We will let you sing, it was 
told, only if you sing such and such a subject and only if 
you sing it in a specific way. 

The enslavement of poetry parallels the enslavement of 
man. Its history might be written in terms of the gains 
and losses of man's freedom. It embraces so generously the 
problems of man that it is impossible to separate them, that 
we cannot speak of one without speaking of the other. 
It has often occurred to me in reading surrealist texts that 
surrealism considers the history of man as if it were a long 
sleep filled with the phantom-like movements and patterns 
created by the characters of a myth. At the beginning of 
time, as soon as man felt himself a being distinct from the 
universe, his conscience was formed, and the main activity 
of man's conscience has been the engendering of his myths. 

140 Age of Surrealism 

In his myths, he accomplished the universe, by returning to 
it and by seeking to establish his relationship to it. Man's 
poetry is a very obscure and very incomplete search for 
precisely this knowledge of what his relationship to the 
universe really is. 

But poetry may not be considered a history or a myth 
or the history of a myth. The only thing we can feel certain 
about poetry — and to this the experiment of surrealism 
has made an illuminating and reassuring contribution — 
is that its essence has something to do with the present. 
It has something to do with the revelation of the eternal 
present. Poetry must recapitulate that feeling of oneness, 
that reality of the ego which was the birth of man's con- 
science at the beginning of time. Poetry is a kind of ex- 
plosion of that ego, a release of the ego in its way back to 
the universe. Like every explosion, poetry takes place 
after a period of compression and repression when dis- 
parate elements can no longer cohabit together, when 
they must break asunder and return to their primitive 
sources, as fire returns to the air. This image may help 
us to understand the surrealist belief that poetry is born 
from the destruction of principles, of superstitious rule 
and artistic prejudice. The surrealists called for the sui- 
cide of art and the renascence of poetry in the same 
way that they called for the demolition of social and 
political barriers and the emancipation of man. 

The surrealist poets, Breton, Eluard, Tzara, Soupault, 
continued the tradition of the voyants of the 19th century. 
In the wake of Baudelaire, Rimbaud and Mallarme, poetry 
continues to be for them the effort to find a lost language. 
The image or the metaphor is the result of a certain kind of 
chemistry. In symbolism, the chemistry was too conscious 
of its means and ends. Surrealism tried to go beyond the 
elaborate consciousness of symbolism to the very source of 
poetic imagination, to the very sleep in which the myths 
of man are preserved. 

Eluard 141 

The miracle of poetry or the wonder of its history is, I 
suppose, its uselessness, its total lack of value. In the light 
of certain theories of history in which man is characterized 
by an economical struggle for survival, the persistence of 
poetry is a difficult fact to account for. Poetry is the history 
of man's disinterestedness. Among all the occupations of 
man, which have no value or use in a material sense, the 
art of poetry is the most impressive. And he comes to it, 
usually at the end of adolescence, just at a time when he 
might well be considering more practical matters. Most 
boys from fourteen to eighteen spend a good deal of time 
dreaming and day-dreaming. A dream, however, is not a 
poem. These boys become poets from eighteen to twenty- 
two, if they convert their dreams into images. It has been 
said that it is no proof that a man is a poet if he writes 
poems at twenty. The proof is if he writes them at thirty 
and at fifty. The period of images, which is the period of 
poetry, may be succeeded by a period of thought. The poet 
may become critic or philosopher. The philosopher is an 
old poet whose communication is no longer made by use 
of images. The engagement of thought is one of the surest 
means of defeating the anguish of solitude. The limitless 
solitude of Baudelaire, for example, was never defeated 
by his activity of poet. The reason for this has perhaps 
something to do with the nature of the image itself. 

I feel there is some connection between the limitless 
solitude of the poet and the magical properties of the 
image which are, in another sense, limitless. In this effort 
to define the image, I am thinking particularly of certain 
emphases which the surrealists gave to its character. In the 
poetic images, everything is comparable to everything else: 
Evening may be spread out against the sky, as Eliot says, 
like a patient etherized upon a table. In the image every- 
thing finds an echo and a resemblance. It may be denned 
by its power of becoming and discovering, by its limitless- 
ness. It contains both resemblances and oppositions, and 

142 Age of Surrealism 

illustrates what Baudelaire called in his Spleen de Paris: 
the logic of the absurd (la logique de VAbsurde). 

As the dreamer preceded the poet, so the dream precedes 
the poem. Behind every poem exists a vision which is 
dead and consumed. A dream sensitizes the universe, but 
a poem desensitizes it and permits man to see a different 
world, or to see the same world differently. The greatest 
privilege which the artist enjoys, and we might say it is 
his only privilege, is that of being himself and of being 
anyone else he wishes to be. The poet's means of exercising 
this privilege is the creation of an image. The image has 
the same compulsion for the poet that color has for the 
painter and that three dimensional form has for the sculp- 
tor. When the surrealist painters undertook to illustrate 
the surrealist poets, they made no attempt to describe the 
images of the poems; they created further images which 
serve to enlarge the meaning of the verbal images. This 
process may be studied in Picasso's drawings for Max 
Jacob (Le Siege de Jerusalem), in the drawings of Ernst 
for Breton's Chateau etoile, in Tanguy's illustrations for 
P£ret (Dormir dormir dans les pierres), in Marcoussis' il- 
lustrations for Alcools of Apollinaire, in Dali's pictures for 
Lautreamont, and in many other collaborative works. 

An image is a pure creation of the mind. No surrealist 
was ever able to create, as he would have liked to, a purely 
spontaneous image, whose nature was entirely private and 
oneiric. The memory of each one of them was so densely 
crowded with images from the romantic poets and others, 
that their images are often traceable. But their images are 
recognizably surrealistic in their quality of precipitates. 
They are more diaphanous and imponderable than the 
images of other poets. Their aim is to avoid the danger of 
using the image to communicate some point. The image 
must not be useful; it must be innocent. Surrealist art must 
be stripped of rhetoric: it must never seek to prove any- 
thing. The great common error which the surrealists never 

Eluard 143 

ceased attacking was the belief that language was created 
in order to help men in their relationships with one an- 
other. This was an aberration, for Andre Breton. The 
highest goal of language, for which it was created, was the 
attainment to a disinterested purity. So, poetry is some- 
thing other than language. It is the deviation from ordi- 
nary human speech, a deviation in which words are juxta- 
posed and pressed against one another in unusual combina- 
tions. If ordinary language is the communication of what 
is thinkable with what is thinkable, poetry is the communi- 
cation of what is thinkable with what is unthinkable. 

In the creation of romantic poetry, the initiative was 
always taken by the poet's sentiment and feeling. Then 
the words were found to correspond to or to translate the 
sentiment. In surrealist poetry the initiative is left to the 
words which then embark upon an extraordinary adven- 
ture of discovering the sensation or the dream or the ob- 
scure experience of the poet. In romantic art, sentiments 
register and engender words. In surrealist art, words, the 
most innocent ones which form with the minimum of pre- 
meditation, engender and register the sensations and the 
experiences of the poet. So, it might be said that the poet's 
words, and the images which magically come together in 
his words, construct the poet. He is made out of his words. 
There is no such thing literally as immediate poetry or 
the spontaneous creation of a poem, but there is a species 
of passivity and of submission by which the poet is worked 
upon, which, beyond any doubt, plays an important part 
in the creation of a poem. 


Modern poetry has been obsessed by a 
search for purity. During eighty years this obsession has 
been constantly expressed in such poems as L'Invitation 
au Voyage of Baudelaire, Herodiade of Mallarme\ and in 
all of his writings for that matter, in Fragments du Narcisse 

144 Age of Surrealism 

and La Jeune Par que of Valery. These poems, which are 
among the finest poetic achievements of our age, have led 
the art of poetry almost to a mortal extremity where its 
very attainment to purity seems equivalent to self-annihi- 
lation. In all of these poems, the purity of the formal 
expression is inextricably allied with the theme of the ab- 
sence of love. The figure of Narcissus, of self-love, of eva- 
sion of love in the ordinary sense, has settled down over the 
poets' obsession for purity and justified it by serving as its 
solitary and deepened myth. Andre Gide, in his early books 
especially, exalted the thirst for love and depreciated its 
satisfaction. Narcissus replaced Eros as god for poets. The 
art of poetry became equivalent to the evasion of life, the 
evasion of living by assuming the ordinary responsibilities. 
Love was not celebrated as much as the fear of love. The. 
poet would dare to fall in love only with the phantom of 
an unknown woman met in his dreams. This is the subject 
of Verlaine's Reve Familier: 

Je fais souvent ce reve etrange et penetrant 

D'une femme inconnue et que j'aime et qui m'aime. 

The solitude of the genius was more firmly barricaded 
than ever, and his poetry was reproached for its hermeti- 
cism, for its purifactory ideal which had driven out all the 
familiar stories and sensations. Rimbaud was admired as 
the poet-magician, the poet-alchemist, and not as the poet- 
lover. The last of the great love poets was Baudelaire, but 
his conception of love had been so tragic and anguished, 
that he had perhaps been more responsible than anyone 
else for the poets' abandonment of love. 

The surrealist revolution, when it first broke out in its 
eloquent statements and histrionic behavior, called for 
total liberty in all human activities, including the activ- 
ity of love. At the beginning, this freedom of love, in the 
surrealist sense, seemed to be fairly synonymous with the 

Eluard 145 

freedom for licence or licentiousness. Love was an experi- 
ment with unusual sensations. Rimbaud's celebrated 
phrase, "the derangement of the senses," was easily inter- 
preted as being an encouragement to the practice of per- 
verted forms of love. The problem of love in the lives 
of Lautreamont and Rimbaud — a problem which I 
should like to say will always remain obscure and inde- 
cipherable but which if we knew more about it and if we 
understood more deeply the meaning of love, would appear 
more sane and universal than many now believe — seemed 
to justify waywardness and experimentation in love. But 
this initial intoxication with freedom in love never de- 
veloped to any degree within the ranks of the surrealists. 

The two leaders especially, Breton and Eluard, due 
perhaps to the very freedom they felt about such problems, 
discovered in the experience and the meaning of love a 
lesson of purity quite opposed to the purity of love's 
absence. They discovered (or rediscovered) the pure love 
of woman and have sung of this love as ecstatically and 
vibrantly as any Ronsard. Their very intoxication with 
liberty seems to find an outlet in their love of woman, in 
their joy over this love. The secrets of the human spirit 
were revealed to the surrealists, one after the other in 
accordance with the surrealist process of free association, 
of spontaneous and involuntary revelation. Their concept 
of woman seems to spring from the deepest part of their 
subconscious and to rise up to their consciousness with a 
primitive and almost sacred insistence. It would not be 
exaggerated to say that the surrealists have contributed to 
a rehabilitation in literature of the role of woman as the 
fleshly and spiritual partner of man. 

Love, even when it is treated negatively as a force in 
absentia, is the essential theme of all poetry and all 
literature. . . . Love is at the same time, paradoxically, 
our surest way of escaping from the world and our pro- 
foundest way of knowing the world. Paul Eluard is perhaps 

146 Age of Surrealism 

the most eminent among the surrealists, as D. H. Lawrence 
is perhaps the most eminent modern writer outside the 
ranks of the surrealists, who have maintained an extraor- 
dinary and lofty awareness of this truth. They both knew 
that behind the multiple hyperboles and absurdities of 
love, behind the delirious profusions of love, it is the one 
force in man capable of breaking through the iron gates of 
language and reason: the two obstacles to love which have 
been inherited from man's age-old fear of love and its 
falsely named debilitating power. 

I thought for a long time that Eluard's particular con- 
ception of love was comparable to the system of chivalric 
love, to something quite similar to courtly love of the 
early romances of the troubadours, to the dolce stil nuovo 
of Guinizelli and Cavalcanti, where man lives in an idola- 
trous submission to his lady. There are moments in his 
poetry when this comparison might justifiably be made. 
But on the whole, I now see his conception of love possess- 
ing a somewhat different emphasis. Woman is quite often 
absent from his poetry, but his love for her has made prac- 
tically impossible the kind of solitude which is so charac- 
teristic of previous poets. The experience of love has finally 
dominated the experience of solitude, or has made out of 
the literal experience of solitariness another kind of posses- 
sion. The eternal presentness of love is the new experience 
which Eluard explores in his verse. 


It would almost seem that his volume of 
1926, Capitate de la Douleur, is a new approach to the 
doctrine of love, a new erotology, one in which love is 
reconsidered as the great cosmic drama for man and in 
which the particular role of woman is accorded a new pre- 

Eluard's thought plays with the reality of love as if it 
were the poet's magnet. He moves toward it and then 

Eluard 147 

moves away. Although his amorous ecstasy is always severe 
and illuminated, one feels that love itself is an experience 
which has taken place at a great distance from the earth 
and beyond the limits of time, in some dark abyss. Love is 
the experience greater than man himself which he records 
and reproduces. It is older than he and more rigorously 
solitary than he is. It is also that experience in the midst 
of which man is unable to rest or establish himself with 
respect to space and time. Love is so perfectly composed 
of desire and despair that it is always in motion. Man is 
unable to fix himself within any part of it. He lives and 
grows and changes in love. And poetry is his metaphysical 
book on love, his guide book perhaps, the summa of all his 
questions and answers. Love is the supreme experience 
where the flesh and the spirit cease contradicting one 
another, and this is the exact phrasing which Breton used 
in defining surrealism in his first manifesto. After all the 
poems on the obsession of purity, Capitate de la Douleur 
comes as a book on the obsession of love in which man is 
portrayed as being both tragically and spiritually depend- 
ent on love. 

The poem Premiere du Monde (p. 101) is dedicated to 
Pablo Picasso, and contains in its images, as many canvases 
of Picasso do in their lines, the secret of woman, of the 
first woman, and the secret place she holds in the universe. 

Captive de la plaine, agonisante folle, 

La lumiere sur toi se cache, vois le ciel: 

II a ferme les yeux pour s'en prendre a ton reve, 

II a ferme ta robe pour briser tes chaines. 

In the first of the five stanzas, the images of the plain and 
of madness describe the unlimited power of woman and 
the strange uniqueness of her vision as contrasted with 
that of man. Light, which is a usual image to describe the 
infinite, is hidden on woman, and the sky itself is con- 
ceived of as closing its eyes in order to attack her dreams. 

148 Age of Surrealism 

The sky closes her dress in order to break her chains. This 
is her myth: she is not dependent on the light of the sky 
because she has it within her. She is the being who is 
uniquely free. Man looks at the universe and can see only 
a woman. 

Devant les roues toutes nouees 
Un eventail rit aux eclats. 
Dans les traitres filets de l'herbe 
Les routes perdent leur reflet. 

The second stanza, with its startling juxtaposition of 
wheels and a fan, describes woman as the circumference 
and the womb and the sex of the world. The tied-together 
wheels, which bear the weight of the world and propel it 
through its destiny, designate the physical responsibility 
and function of woman. But the laughing fan, the other 
symbolic circle of woman's power, is the object of her 
charm and seductiveness, the simple lure by which she 
accomplishes the rotation of the world. So, woman is both 
principle (the world's wheel) and every particularity of 
the principle. In the same stanza the image of the grass 
where roads lose their reflections and their character, de- 
scribes the drama of man and woman. She is the grass 
(as she was first the plain and the limitless light of the 
sky) and he is the road which first cuts across the grass, 
only to be lost in the new growth, covered and absorbed 
by woman's principle of eternality. Man loses his original 
form and personality in the experience of love. Woman is, 
and man is always trying to be. 

By comparison with such images as those of the wheel 
and the grass, the cult of man in the 19th century and his 
vehement regimen of individualism take on an almost 
absurd aspect. Eluard surpasses in such a poem as Premiere 
du Monde the glorification of the solitary male genius. 
In his poetry man is no longer looking at himself for he has 
begun to contemplate the mysteries and has quite right- 

Eluard 149 

fully begun with the mystery of woman. Ezra Pound made 
once a profoundly prophetic statement when he said: "Our 
time has overshadowed the mysteries by an overemphasis 
on the individual." The poetry of Eluard marks a great 
increase of illumination on an idea which has been subtly 
growing ever since the hermetic sonnets of Gerard de Ner- 
val. He was perhaps the first of the modern poets (and 
modern men) to be subjugated by the meaning of woman 
in somewhat the same way that Eluard makes so explicit. 
Baudelaire fought and struggled tragically, like one of 
the damned, against this idea of woman. Nerval seems to 
have foreseen what Eluard feels: the magic of all the ob- 
jects of his desire, the all-encompassing realm of magic 
which woman represents and creates. 

Ne peux-tu done prendre les vagues 
Dont les barques sont les amandes 
Dans ta paume chaude et caline 
Ou dans les boucles de ta tete? 

Ne peux-tu prendre les £toiles? 
Ecartelee, tu leur ressembles, 
Dans leur nid de feu tu demeures 
Et ton eclat s'en multiplie. 

The next two stanzas of Premiere du Monde pose two 
questions which are overwhelmingly revelatory. The man 
asks these questions of the woman (or we might say that 
the poet asks them of Eve). The first question: "Can't you 
hold the waves in the palm of your hand?" signifies 
woman's possessiveness of all that is unruly and vain, her 
power of control and the physical supremacy of her being. 
The second question: "Can't you hold the stars?" is an 
image of the marvellous in the surrealist tradition. Woman 
resembles the stars because she is ecartelee; that is, she is 
extended on a rack (this is the recurring wheel image of 
the second stanza) and drawn toward the four opposing 

150 Age of Surrealism 

directions. She is everywhere in the universe, as the sky 
is spread out, and she is unique at the same time. She is 
one being and all beings. Her brilliance is multiple like 
the myriad fires of the stars, and it comes from a prodigious 
distance in space and time. 

De l'aube baillonnee un seul cri veut jaillir, 
Un soleil tournoyant ruisselle sous l'ecorce. 
II ira se fixer sur tes paupieres closes. 
O douce, quand tu dors, la nuit se mele au jour. 

In the final stanza, the dawn is gagged (l'aube baillon- 
nee) as the wheels, in the image of the second stanza, were 
tied together (les roues toutes nouees). It is as if the sun 
were trying to pour out from under the bark or some 
covering. (Un soleil tournoyant ruisselle sous l'ecorce.) 
Then the image is explained when the poet speaks of the 
sun on the closed eyelids of the woman. During the sleep 
of the woman, night is joined with day. She is the being 
synonymous with light, independent of light because she 
contains it all. O douce quand tu dors, la nuit se mile au 
jour. She is like the dawn, bound and gagged; like the 
wheels of the sun chariot, tied together during her sleep. 

In such a poem, it is quite possible to see what surrealist 
inspiration, largely under the influence of Rimbaud, 
whose methodology in Les Illuminations is here appro- 
priated, has been successful in creating. What once was 
epic drama and historical recital, is now cerebral and psy- 
chic. The drama of love is played in the mind. It is lyricism 
of one moment, a flash of time, that is never over, that is 
anonymous and universal and hence mythical. The mind 
appears before itself, filled with the image of woman so 
resplendent in her nudity that she is all degrees of light: 
angelic and demonic, carnal and spiritual, unique and 

The final poem of the volume, Capitate de la Douleur, 
is appropriately placed at the end because it summarizes 

Eluard 151 

the work and the theme, and appropriately entitled: Celle 
de toujours, toute ("She of all time, all"). The poem is 
the apothesis of song, the opening out of meaning and de- 
liverance in which we may see more clearly than anywhere 
else in the book the relationship between man and woman. 
The other poem I have just analyzed is principally a poem 
about woman. But now the poet tells us that woman is not 
the femaleness of his body — C'est qu'elle n'est pas celle de 
mon corps — and that explains why he has to abandon her. 
He has never boasted of accomplishing absolute union 
with woman. As the fog through which he has moved 
doesn't know whether he passed or not, so woman, in her 
eternal and all-encompassing principle, is unaware of the 
passing or the accident of man in her life. 

Si je vous dis: "j'ai tout abandonne" 

C'est qu'elle n'est pas celle de mon corps, 

Je ne m'en suis jamais vante, 

Ce n'est pas vrai 

Et la brume de fond ou je me meus 

Ne sait jamais si j'ai passe. 

That is the introduction. In the second stanza, which is 
the longest part of the poem, the man speaks of woman 
and proclaims that he is the only one to speak of her, the 
only one who is surrounded by the mirror of woman. Here 
is a further notation on the mirror-symbol, where Hero- 
diade saw herself, in Mallarme's poem, and through which 
Orpheus passed, in Cocteau's play, and through which 
every poet must pass as into the ocean, into the principle 
of maternity, which may be disguised by the words ocean, 
sky, stars, cloud, fog. All of these images of woman recur 
persistently in this poem, and in the others of Eluard. At 
the end of the stanza, the generosity of woman, her princi- 
pal characteristic so clearly opposed to the selfishness of the 
male, which has already been described by the image of 
limitless light, is translated now by the image of blood, 

152 Age of Surrealism 

le sang de la generosite, with all its multiple meanings of 

life, sacrifice, birth, sexuality. 

L'e>entail de sa bouche, le reflet de ses yeux 

Je suis le seul a en parler, 

Je suis le seul qui soit cerne 

Par ce miroir si nul ou Fair circule a travers moi 

Et l'air a un visage, un visage aime, 

Un visage aimant, ton visage, 

A toi qui n'as pas de nom et que les autres ignorent, 

La mer te dit: sur moi, le ciel te dit: sur moi, 

Les astres te devinent, les nuages t'imaginent 

Et le sang repandu aux meilleurs moments, 

Le sang de la generosite 

Te porte avec delices. 

The ending of the poem, the final eight lines, is the 
definition of the poet. He is the singer, the one who sings 
the joy of singing about woman, whether she is present 
or absent. This would seem to be the key to the new ero- 
tology of Eluard. Woman, by her very existence, suppresses 
the concept of absence. She also suppresses any meaning we 
can give to the words hope, ignorance, oblivion. The mys- 
tery of the poet's song is that mystery in which love created 
him and liberated itself. Creation is freedom. By the fact 
of his existing, he knows that woman exists and surrounds 
him at all moments. His principle is defined by his freedom 
to move within woman, She is everything that he is, but in 
a higher degree, and this is set forth in the final line where 
woman's purity is sung of as being purer than man's. 

Je chante la grande joie de te chanter, 

La grande joie de t'avoir ou de ne pas t'avoir, 

La candeur de t'attendre, l'innocence de te connaitre, 

O toi qui supprimes l'oubli, l'espoir et l'ignorance, 

Qui supprimes l'absence et qui me mets au monde, 

Je chante pour chanter, je t'aime pour chanter 

Le mystere ou l'amour me cree et se delivre. 

Eluard 153 

On a very superficial level, on a narrow psychoanalytic 
level, the particular relationship which man bears to 
woman, as shown in this poem, might be defined as maso- 
chistic. But the meaning seems to me to go much deeper 
than that. Man is attached to woman, as he is attached to 
all the mysteries through which his life unfolds. He is 
attached to woman because he is man and dependent upon 
her for the event of his life. Eluard's is not the worship 
of the chivalric poets. They had nothing of the deep sense 
of tranquility which is the principal character of Eluard's 
love. The particular suffering of love, generated by the 
coming together of the Christian concept, the Agape, 
with the Pagan concept, Eros, which became the drama of 
love in the Western world from the story of Tristan to the 
novel of Proust, is not completely absent from the poetry 
of Eluard, but it is strongly counteracted by a worship of 
the mystery of love, by a tranquility in the presence of love 
which seems far more primitive than either Christian or 
Ancient. Picasso, more than any other single artist in 
Europe, helped to reveal during the years which just pre- 
ceded the surrealist movement, the power and the charac- 
ter of primitive or Negro art. Something of the tranquil 
worshipfulness of woman as a mystery, which Eluard may 
have first seen in the paintings of Picasso, as well as those 
of Gauguin, has been carried over into his verse, where 
there is an abundant song of woman without the harassing 
agony of sexuality. Love is not for Eluard, as it is for Tris- 
tan, the experience and the desire for death; it is rather 
the sense and meaning and ambiency of life. 


Appearing more than ten years after 
Capitate de la Douleur, Eluard's volume Chanson Com- 
plete, of, 1939, has an opening poem, Nous sommes, which 
demonstrates his continued and deepened preoccupation 
with the doctrine of love. 

154 Age of Surrealism 

The first part of the poem, 24 out of the entire 34 lines, 
is dominated by the motif tu vois and the category of 
things which woman sees. In the first category, woman sees 
such things as the evening fire, the forest, the plain, the 
snow, the ocean; and almost each one of them is character- 
ized by a brilliant image, such as the evening fire which 
emerges from its shell: Tu vois le feu du soir qui sort de sa 
coquille. This is the list of immensities and infinities with 
which woman is so often compared in Eluard's verse. Then 
we read a kind of second category, of more humble and 
more finite objects: stones, woods, towns, sidewalks, a 
square where solitude has its statue and where love has a 
single house. These are the second things seen by woman 
which have their place and their name within the limitless- 
ness and the namelessness of her vision. Animals are here, 
too, like twins or perfectly resembling brothers who are 
comprehensible to woman in their destiny of blood sacri- 

At the end of the categories, a climactic stanza brings 
back the mirror-symbol of woman, so suitably conclusive 
to the elaborate litany of her visions. She is one with all the 
women who preceded her, who come down from their an- 
cient mirror bringing her their youth and faith and espe- 
cially their illumination which permits her to see secretly 
the world without herself. Woman sees the universe, but 
man is myopic. He sees solely himself, or he sees himself 
in the objects he looks at. The mysterious vision of 
woman is the key to her sensitivity. 

The title of the poem, Nous sommes, is explained at the 
end, where men are described as harvesting their dreams. 
They are first the workers, the laborers, but they are es- 
pecially the dreamers and hence the poets. "We are," 
according to the poet, Nous sommes, in relationship to 
woman, who sees, who, sun-like, illumines all. Man is de- 
fined by a mystical dependence on woman. He is, when he 
is with her, when he is sleeping in her or under her shadow. 

Eluard 155 

The complete song of man, the Chanson complete, which 
serves as title for this volume of Eluard, is lullaby (ber- 
ceuse), love song and lamentation at death, all so ingen- 
iously composed by man the poet, and all reflecting himself 
in the mirror which is woman. 

The mystery of passion — I have studiously avoided this 
word until my conclusion of the chapter — is a dialectic 
in which man makes an extraordinary request, but one 
which is clearly articulated in the most serious part of the 
surrealist program. In asking for the experience of passion, 
he asks for the resolution or the dissolving of the antinomy 
between the subject and the object, between love and 
death, between man and woman. It is because of love that 
the universe is dissonant, and it is also because of love that 
the universe is still resonant with the most wonderful 
harmonies that man is able to hear. The world has a kind 
of weight about it, a heaviness and a materiality; ^nd love 
is precisely that one force or that one mystery capable of 
so condensing the world that it becomes weightless, sum- 
marized into a few words which have no more weight than 
the tiniest breath of air, the briefest exhalation from the 
lips of a man. The power of love is able to convert the 
material world into an imponderable dream, into as imma- 
terial a reality as hope. 

Love is the immediate (Eluard has brilliantly entitled 
one of his volumes La Vie Immediate); it is the domain of 
immanency, and it is described only by its ever-forming 
images. We can begin to see the distinguished lineage of 
surrealism, first in the images of Rimbaud (the most im- 
portant literary background for Eluard), and then behind 
him in Baudelaire, and so on back through Poe to Cole- 
ridge, whose imagination was so influenced by The Monk 
of Lewis. Kenneth Burke is quite right in calling Kubla 
Khan a surrealist masterpiece, which even follows the rule 
of automatic writing. But more perhaps than in the mys- 
tery poems of Coleridge and the Gothic tale of Lewis, a 

156 Age of Surrealism 

distant example in the English tradition of this contempo- 
rary doctrine on love would be found in certain passages 
of Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, who, in the ap- 
proved surrealist tradition, had composed her novel at an 
early age. The heroine of Wuthering Heights, Cathy, is 
hard to describe in ordinary terms of a vibrant and pas- 
sionate girl. Emily Bronte is more at ease when she com- 
pares her to the elements, to the wind and snow on 
Wuthering Heights, to the moors and crags, to the earth 
mysteries and the fidelity of supernatural phantoms. When 
Cathy tries to describe her love for Heathcliff, she does it 
in terms of the ineffable, of an all possessing spirit in which 
Heathcliff is absorbed, where his identity is lost in her. She 
says: "He shall never know how I love him: and that, not 
because he is handsome, but because he is more myself 
than I . . . My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal 
rocks beneath. ... I am Heathcliff." 

After Cathy's sickness, she makes no real effort to re- 
cover, but says one day to her servant: "I'm sure I should 
be myself were I once among the heather on those hills." 
She represents a vegetative principle, and dies when pre- 
vented from living in accordance with her limitlessness 
and nature-ness. Heathcliff, dark as a demon and a kind 
of spirit himself, is the only one to understand this, and 
he says in speaking of Cathy's husband: "He might as well 
plant an oak in a flower pot, and expect it to thrive." 
With such images as these, with such love as Cathy feels for 
Heathcliff, in the world and beyond the world, with the 
constant interpenetrating of reality and the supernatural, 
Wuthering Heights is not only the greatest of the Gothic 
tales, but a surrealist novel as well. Cathy is like the woman 
compared by Eluard to the grass of the earth or the heather 
of the moors which bear the footprints of man and then 
efface them in the duration and the presentness of love. 

IX • PICASSO: the art 


The theory of chance, or objective haz- 
ard, as related to the creation of art, so copiously analyzed 
by the surrealists in their manifestoes and critical writings, 
might be justified by stories from many schools of art, 
throughout the entire history of art. A story, connected 
with some work of Picasso, not only defines this theory but 
contains in the words of Picasso an explanation of the 

At the dress rehearsal of Cocteau's play Antigone, in 
December, 1922, one part of the backdrop which had been 
painted by Picasso was still unfinished. Cocteau and the 
actor Dullin and others were in the orchestra looking at 
the stage. Picasso was on the stage walking up and down 
in front of the set. It was painted blue with an opening 
on the left and right. In the center was a hole through 
which the role of the chorus was to be recited by Cocteau 
himself by using a megaphone. Over the hole Cocteau had 
hung masks of women, boys and old men, and had placed 
under them a white panel, which remained to be con- 
verted into a part of the set. After considering the white 
panel for some time, Picasso rubbed a piece of red chalk 

158 Age of Surrealism 

(baton de sanguine) over the surface which gave it some- 
what the aspect of marble. Then he took a bottle of ink 
and traced some majestic-looking motifs on the panel. Sud- 
denly, when he blackened a few empty spots, three beauti- 
ful and appropriate columns emerged, so unpredictably 
and so much to the surprise of the few spectators that they 
couldn't refrain from applauding. Later when Cocteau left 
the theatre with Picasso, he asked the painter whether he 
had calculated the appearance of the columns or whether 
he too had been surprised by their sudden emergence. 
Picasso replied that he had been surprised, but then he 
added the surrealist explanation that an artist is always cal- 
culating without knowing that he is. 

The privilege has been accorded to Picasso, as it has 
been to very few artists, to prove his life before his death. 
His greatness, acknowledged during his lifetime, has proved 
him to be a man equal to the world. His statements, many 
of which already appear apocryphal, have often the ring of 
a man able to sustain an individual's competition with the 
world: "When I haven't any blue, I use red," he once said. 
(Quand je n'ai pas de bleu, je mets du rouge.) His posi- 
tion in the world of art is in good harmony with existing 
schools, such as surrealism, in whose exhibitions he is al- 
ways represented and in whose manifestoes his name occu- 
pies a place of honor, and at the same time his position 
is far beyond any facile classification, isolated actually in 
its own created universe. The event of Picasso in our world 
serves to prove once again that in the history of art there 
are not really any schools, there are just isolated geniuses, 
strong makers of art. 

The same case might be made out for Mallarme, whose 
work, usually classified with symbolism, appears more and 
more now to exceed the doctrinal limitations of that 
school. Mallarme's poetry, vastly more limited in output 
than the paintings of Picasso, has a comparable strength 
of uniqueness, which, remaining in some sense an art of a 

Picasso 159 

period and closely allied with a school of that period, is 
in its deepest sense the example of an art characterized by 
its heroism, its solitude, its extraordinary equation with 
the world. Both Picasso and Mallarme have the same kind 
of greatness in that imitation of their art may well be dis- 
astrous. Less original artists may be imitated profitably 
and skillfully, but the style of Mallarme and the style of 
Picasso, when attempted by others, degenerates into carica- 
ture and weakness. Such painting as Picasso has done is a 
world by itself. It is completed by him: there is nothing to 

Mallarme and Picasso are also alike — and this is perhaps 
always a characteristic of their particular stature of great- 
ness — in the secrecy of their heart, in the absence of any 
real knowledge about them as men and personalities. Many 
of Picasso's closest friends have tried to write about him 
personally: Gertrude Stein, Apollinaire, Max Jacob, Andre* 
Salmon, Cocteau, Maurice Raynal; but none has succeeded 
in revealing anything more than anecdotes and sayings and 
picturesque but vaguely outlined portraits. Picasso's work 
is so projected outside of himself, and rendered so com- 
plete and autonomous, that there are no ties between him 
and it. This mark of heroic completeness is the mark of 
anonymity, the mark of a work, as Lautreamont and the 
surrealists wanted it, done by all. The work is the person- 
ality, because the artist's personality, so completely used 
and absorbed, disappears into it. Picasso draws his profile 
countless times, but never a profile that resembles his own. 
He is recognizable in his style, not in his features, as Mal- 
larme* is recognizable in the style of L ' Apres-Midi d'un 
Faune and the sonnets and never discoverable in any self- 
related traits. 

Picasso's career has been a series of revolutionary acts, 
close in spirit if not in literalness to the revolutionary stim- 
ulus of surrealism. He does the varied and the unpredict- 
able in the constant depiction of himself which is not a self- 

160 Age of Surrealism 

portrait. He was a revolutionist when, in 1917, he went off 
to Rome with Cocteau and Diaghilev to paint the sets for 
the ballet Parade. This desertion of the Cafe" de la Rotonde 
in Montparnasse, which at that time was the center of 
painting, to become a theatre decorator was just one of 
many such abrupt turns and discoveries composing a life 
of constant rejuvenation and reanimation. In Rome he 
painted for the ballet a horse which Mme. de Noailles 
described as a tree laughing, and blue acrobats which 
Proust compared to the Dioscuri: Castor and Pollux. (In 
the program notes which he wrote for Parade, Apollinaire 
spoke of the "surrealism" achieved in the ballet. This was, 
I believe, the first appearance of the word in print.) 
Picasso's existence, so unlike that of most men and even of 
most artists, became inseparable from the existence of the 
world. The creation of art is always the way taken between 
the subject and the object, and in Picasso's art the way back 
and forth between the two poles is so frequently and so 
feverishly covered that the poles finally merge into one. 
The way of art becomes the existence of art. 


The career of Picasso has been briefly 
chronicled many times. His so-called periods of style, char- 
acterized by a dominant color, have succeeded one another 
rapidly and overlapped, until the principle of his life as 
painter seems to be his perpetual need of self-renovation. 
This need of discovery and fresh contest with the world 
so dominates his art that it may be wondered whether 
painting itself isn't something accessory to Picasso, whether 
the act of painting isn't the outer manifestation of another 
principle or goal. Picasso doesn't seem to be a painter in 
the more narrow and the purer sense that Matisse, for ex- 
ample, is a painter. The work of Braque is more exclu- 
sively and fervently the work of a painter for whom the 
universe was made to end in a painting, if we appropriate 

Picasso 161 

and modify the formula once used by Mallarme* to char- 
acterize the poet. 

Picasso is much more than a painter and is constantly 
breaking through the bounds of painting. He is prophet, 
interpretive historian, magician, and necromancer. He is 
perhaps the great psychologist of the century, the Span- 
ish doctor who replaced the Viennese. By the recklessness 
with which he views art and by the lyric frenzy in which 
he works, he exemplifies the surrealist precept that art is 
not so much the production of an object — a poem or a 
painting — as it is the expression of an attitude, of a rev- 
olution of a metaphysics. The artist works in a kind of 
anonymity, in collaboration with many more beings than 
himself. The traditional act of the artist is that of repro- 
ducing the world, but for Picasso and the surrealists the 
major act might be defined as that of participating in the 
world, moving within it, understanding it. It is no longer 
a question of painting a human figure against a back- 
ground of the material world, but of trying to untie some 
of the hundreds of complications in the relationship where 
man finds himself with nature. When Picasso painted the 
backdrop for Cocteau's Parade, in 1917, the painted fig- 
ures combined with the living actors on the stage. For the 
first time, the set participated in the action. 

Before Picasso, the impressionists had made tremendous 
innovations in pictorial art, and the Spaniard from Malaga 
carefully studied all the school of French painting. He 
knew the recipes of Poussin, Corot, Cezanne, Toulouse- 
Lautrec, and he has used them all. But his greatest paint- 
ings are those in which he demonstrates a scorn and an 
avoidance of traditional technique and method. Like the 
surrealists, he makes a tabula rasa of the past, but like the 
surrealists also his memory is full of the art of the past. 

Picasso came to Paris at the turn of the century, and 
during the first ten years moved successively and swiftly 
through his "periods," denominated by blue, rose, Negro, 

162 Age of Surrealism 

and cubist. He was in his twenties and living most of the 
time in his studio on the rue de Ravignan in Montmartre. 
He was poor (he willingly sold his drawings for twenty 
francs each) and his friends were poor. They were for the 
most part writers, Andre" Salmon, Max Jacob, and Apol- 
linaire, precisely those who, with Picasso, were to stimulate 
and guide the early surrealists. His first paintings have a 
strong literariness about them. Picasso helped to reinstate 
the anecdote or narrative element in painting, and this 
aspect of his work was continued and explored by the sur- 

The paintings done between 1901 and 1905, placed to- 
gether would resemble a court of miracles. It is a blue 
world of pathos and misery: beggars, blind figures, ema- 
ciated children and mothers. Between 1905 and 1906 the 
colors became more diversified and the figures more grace- 
ful. The emaciated children now became circus children, 
tumblers, and youthful acrobats. The sad youths are now 
sad clowns and athletes, Harlequins who are more elegant 
in their sadness, more detached and nostalgic. These are 
all true paintings, in that they have remarkable plasticity 
of form, but they show such tenderness on the part of the 
painter, such an affectionate union between him and the 
figures on his canvas, that it is impossible to look at them 
without experiencing a pathos and sentimentality usually 
associated with literature. These first paintings were exer- 
cises in seeing, in liberating the painter's vision, in attain- 
ing to what Rimbaud had called la voyance. 

Picasso followed the inevitable principle of art in these 
early paintings by choosing, simplifying, and deforming to 
some degree. A studio is always a laboratory, and as far 
back as the rue de Ravignan period, Picasso showed what 
he found, according to his celebrated phrase, Je ne cherche 
pas, je trouve. Guillaume Apollinaire, who spent so much 
time with painters, and especially with Picasso, influenced 
them deeply by the sensitivity of his mal-aime and his feel- 

Picasso 163 

ing for the strange isolated existence of the clowns and the 
saltimbanques at the Cirque Medrano. Picasso, who is go- 
ing to learn through the years how to question severely 
the universe and to exact from it an increasingly tragic 
subject matter, learned first how to question it with the 
tender nostalgia of Apollinaire. His Harlequins and salt- 
timbanques belong to the species of voyou-poet (Villon 
and Rimbaud in certain aspects of their poetry, but espe- 
cially Apollinaire) whose heart is disarmed in the midst 
of his more cruel brothers. The clown-Harlequin, the type 
of incomplete and lonely hero, ever since Watteau painted 
Gilles in the early 18th century, has been continued and 
has reached in modern art a unity of tragic attitude and 
spiritual fervor, whether it be in Stravinsky's Petrouchka, 
or the poetry of Verlaine, or in the painting of Picasso and 
Rouault, or the films of Chaplin. These artists have been 
fascinated by the role of the clown who is able to give back 
to the dull unknowing public a compressed picture of it- 
self, a parable of man condensed into a face of white grease- 
paint and a few wild antics. The performance of a clown 
was seen to be not unlike a poem or a painting, not unlike 
the strange subterfuge of an image in words or in oils. The 
behavior of a clown is sufficiently improvised, sufficiently 
drawn up from a deep subconscious understanding of the 
world, to make it resemble the creation of a poem or a 
painting in the surrealist sense, namely the sense of spon- 
taneous or automatic creation, of dictation from the 

Many of Picasso's brief elliptical statements about paint- 
ing, which have been piously collected and preserved, cor- 
roborate much surrealist doctrine and in many cases have, 
I suspect, helped to formulate it. The age of Picasso in 
Paris, which began at the turn of the century and seems 
to have reached some kind of conclusion in the Salon ex- 
hibition of the autumn of 1944, held right after the lib- 
eration of Paris, is best characterized by an enriching and 

164 Age of Surrealism 

fervent interchange of ideas between poets and painters. 
Not only do poets write about painters: Apollinaire on 
cubist painters, Cocteau on Chirico and Picasso, Valery on 
Degas, Breton on Matta; but painters engage upon the art 
of writing, and in forms more creative than journal- writ- 
ing, such as Delacroix had done. Rouault published prose 
poems and Picasso a play. It is a period when many barriers 
are broken down between the arts, heretofore so carefully 
departmentalized, when canvases might be described as gra- 
tuitous, in the same way that Lafcadio's act in Gide's Caves 
du Vatican is called un acte gratuity and a certain kind of 
writing is called gratuitous. Picasso has said that a painting 
is not decided upon or arranged in advance, that in the 
actual act of painting, everything may be questioned and 
changed. As the process of thinking constantly changes 
and develops, so a canvas changes as it is being painted, and 
continues to change, after it is completed and exhibited, 
when submitted to all the various attitudes and states of 
mind of the spectators. 

The surrealists are in accord with Picasso in believing 
that the emotions or feelings of the artist which are to pro- 
duce the art, may come from every possible source: from 
the expanse of the sky or a spider's cobweb, from a forest 
or a snail, from a bit of celluloid or an empty wine bottle. 
The artist has to choose what is suitable for him to depict, 
and even then in the state of fullness over whatever he has 
chosen, whether it be the figure of a woman or a candle- 
stick, he has to channel or delete or evacuate much of his 
feeling of fullness before he can work. One assumes an 
emotion when the idea of a work of art occurs, and then 
one deliberately expels the emotions when the work be- 
gins. Painting for Picasso is not the application of any doc- 
trine, of anything that might be called a canon of beauty. 
It is a conception of his mind and instinct, quite inde- 
pendent of any program or precept of painting. "A picture 

Picasso 165 

comes to me," he has said, "from miles away — and yet the 
next day I can't see what I've done myself." 

In 1906, Picasso was twenty-five years old. He had al- 
ready produced two hundred paintings and several hun- 
dred drawings: or what might be considered the work of a 
lifetime. The "blue" paintings had described a fin-de-siecle 
despair and pessimism. The acrobats of 1905 and the 
"rose" paintings had shown a more tranquil and classical 
state of mind. He had begun his series of cubist paintings 
under the influence of Cezanne, El Greco, and primitive 
masks. Les Demoiselles d' Avignon (1906-07), the large 
painting in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, 
marks the shift from a narrative kind of painting to one in 
which the figures appear as pure elements of form. It dem- 
onstrates the breaking up of recognizable figures (in this 
case, five women) into formalized shapes. The more lit- 
erary elements of pity and pathos have given way to a 
strong dynamic quality. This has been considered by some 
critics as the painting which initiated the cubist move- 
ment. Perspective as well as most representational elements 
have disappeared from it. In the painting itself the three 
figures on the left are close to the mask-like figures painted 
in 1906, and the two figures on the right show a marked 
tendency toward distortion and even dislocation. Compact- 
ness and angularity increase in Picasso's painting until 
1909, when his and Braque's paintings are difficult to dis- 

The word cubism had been coined by Matisse when he 
had spoken a bit scornfully about some paintings of Braque 
in 1908. The cubist paintings of Picasso were to find even 
more favor with the surrealists than the paintings of his 
earlier periods. They developed the two surrealist aspects 
of the fantastic and the psychological, the two terms which 
Breton was to define later as le merveilleaux and Vincon- 
scient. They were paintings in which recognizable char- 

166 Age of Surrealism 

acteristics of the object gave way to pure forms. Cubism 
always considered a picture as an object creating lyricism. 
A painter may indulge in any liberty provided he gen- 
erates the lyricism of forms. He owes nothing to nature 
because his goal is not imitation but the plasticity of forms 
and colors. 

Picasso was never the artist of a landscape, or of a figure, 
for that matter. Inwardly he bore no image of a concrete 
object, but a kind of desert where any object might form 
and then be submitted to multiple transformations. This 
desert-characteristic of his mind, the need of constantly 
evicting images as they form in him, is stated in Rimbaud's 
Saison en Enfer, in the passage on the "Alchemy of Lan- 
guage": J'aimai le desert, les vergers brules, les boutiques 
faneeSj les boissons tiedies. This list of the desert, dried 
orchards, faded shops, and tepid drinks, is inducement to 
ascetic behavior necessary for the creation of art such as 
cubist and surrealist art. By 1912, after passing through a 
few years when cubist art had been almost a collective 
work, it reached a remarkable point of loftiness and sever- 
ity in Picasso and Braque (although Picasso's drawing was 
always more tormented than Braque 's) when the intensity 
of the painting was austere and economical. 

But Picasso never remained for long with any one mode 
of painting. His personal myth might well be that of Dio- 
nysos, the god whose rites alternate lamentation with re- 
joicing, whose celebration was both dramatic and magical. 
Picasso is not a changing or vacillating artist in his need 
for freedom and diversity; he is multiple. As the cult of 
Dionysos was enacted to insure the regeneration of plants 
and the multiplication of animals, so Picasso, who has come 
nearest in our day to the creation of a cult, has regener- 
ated and multiplied his works of art. The cult of Dionysos, 
quite evenly divided between mystery and savagery, could 
be paralleled in the cubist paintings of Picasso and the 
studies of monsters which followed. Picasso's predilection 

Picasso 167 

for the bull and tauromachy is also involved in the myth of 
Dionysos who was often represented in the shape of a bull 
or in some tauromachic practice, such as the slaughter of 
the bull in the vegetation rite. 

Picasso was never closer to dadaists, like Tzara and 
Picabia, and to surrealists like Chirico, Survage, and Mir6, 
than when he began modifying abstract architectural 
cubism by unusual proportions and by half-human, half- 
inhuman forms which are seen in dreams. Picasso became 
a prolific fabricator of monstrous forms, quite as terrifying 
as those created by Lautr^amont in Les Chants de Mal- 
doror. After the rose or the Medrano period and the few 
years of cubist painting, when his art had become more cere- 
bralized and intellectualized than ever, he was painting 
exactly as he conceived, goaded on by an imperious need of 
knowing, which has always characterized his work. The 
monsters of Lautr^amont and Picasso, far from being pic- 
turesque or ornamental decorations, testify to subconscious 
paroxysms and to a will to understand the most inac- 
cessible of man's dreams. Picasso, like his great Spanish 
ancestor, Don Quixote, finds it difficult to distinguish be- 
tween the phantom and the real worlds. He is the con- 
temporary amateur of catastrophe, who, like Cervantes 
again, knows how to indulge, after moments of paroxysm, 
in passages of profound peacefulness, where the theme of 
a mandoline, of flowers and the female figure, proves that 
Dionysos has to recover from intoxication after ravaging 
the countryside and seeing with the derangement of his 
senses. The passage on the sleeping hermaphrodite in Lau- 
treamont's second canto is a comparable passage of peace- 
fulness and even tenderness inserted between scenes of 

Dionysos, god of vegetation rites, metamorphosed into 
a goat or a bull, and Don Quixote, who converted sheep 
into soldiers, are mythical and national phantoms in 
Picasso, whose method and principles of painting are always 

168 Age of Surrealism 

investigations. Beauty, as Breton said in Nadja, must be 
convulsive, or not be at all. Most men live in a perpetual 
night, and the conventions of society carefully preserve the 
obscurity which is their climate. Those who are able to 
look at the monsters of Picasso (or read about the monsters 
of Lautreamont) are the men who remember their dreams 
and are not terrified by them. Nature is an appearance of 
things. The function of the greatest artists is to renew this 
appearance, to change it so that we may see more truth- 
fully what we look at. 

In speaking once to Christian Zervos, Picasso said: "I 
don't know in advance what I am going to put on the can- 
vas. Every time I begin a picture, I feel as though I were 
throwing myself into the void." This statement is close to 
the surrealist doctrine whereby in the process of artistic 
creation, all links with the objective world are broken, and 
the artist is able to enter the realm of subjective fancy and 
dream. It is the method, brilliantly illustrated in Lautrea- 
mont, of preconscious imagery where observation is re- 
placed by intuition, where reality is replaced by symbol- 
ism, but a special kind of symbolism where the symbols 
have the unpredictable dimensions of a submerged world. 


During the authentic and controlled pe- 
riod of surrealism in Paris, 1925-39, Picasso influenced 
and was influenced by the exponents and artists of the new 
art. As the large painting of 1906-07, Les Demoiselles 
d' Avignon, was annunciatory of a new interest and way of 
composition, so the painting of 1925, The Three Dancers, 
marks another turning point, after which Picasso follows 
surrealist tendencies in revealing in his paintings psycho- 
logical disturbances or torments. These years of both gen- 
eral and specific surrealist adherence culminated in the 
Guernica mural on which Picasso began work three days 
after the German planes bombed the Basque town on 

Picasso 169 

April 27, 1937. In the light of the paintings done by 
Picasso during the years of this decade, 1940-45, Guernica 
is just a first culmination of vigor and historic protest. He 
didn't literally paint the second World War, in his Paris 
studio, but he has said himself that the war is in all the 
canvases he painted during that time. 

The meaning and the experience of the war are in 
Picasso's works, in the very way in which he saw the figures 
he painted. This illustrates his permanent method which 
extends back to the already now distant "blue" kingdom 
where the figures were related and bound to the world by 
their suffering. Picasso has always been a romantic artist. 
As the romantic art of his "blue" period became more 
etherealized in the "rose" and "cubist" years, and as it 
became more exultant in the "surrealist" and "war" pe- 
riods, his temperament seems simply to have deepened its 
sombre, revolutionary, and subjective traits. Like his tem- 
perament, his problem as painter has remained the same 
throughout half a century: that of seeing. To see, for 
Picasso, is equivalent to transforming and to forgetting. 
His goal remains steadfastly revolutionary, in that it always 
means liberating his vision. One thinks instinctively of 
Rimbaud's theory of voyance, whereby his soul will be con- 
verted into something monstrous. Each of Rimbaud's 
prose-poems, Les Illuminations, is quite independent of 
the thing he saw, and in the same way, each picture of 
Picasso ends, through his particular process of painting, by 
becoming independent of the subject he imitates. He may 
start with a woman, or a guitar, or a pot of flowers, but 
then as the composition progresses, these objects take on 
the function of a scaffolding, which when the picture is 
completed, disappears because it is no longer needed. The 
picture emerges indifferent to and independent from the 
subject matter with which it started. The same process 
occurred in Les Illuminations when Rimbaud knocked 
out from under the construction the recognizable supports 

170 Age of Surrealism 

and buttresses. Rimbaud debauched his themes and sub- 
jects, and Picasso does likewise in the arabesques of his 
lines, in the only partially human terrors he reveals, in his 
long series of distorted figures. 

Other painters were more literal-minded in their accept- 
ance of surrealism: Max Ernst, Andre Masson, and Chi- 
rico, the greatest perhaps, who during the few years of his 
surrealist fidelity gave a rich documentation on the paint- 
er's subconscious. But Picasso's art, in its abundance as 
well as in the methods it illustrates, is the greatest testi- 
monial to the energies and the forces which underly sur- 
realism. All the various articles of surrealist faith may be 
exemplified in Picasso: paranoiac-criticism, usually asso- 
ciated with Dali; the art of dislocation wherein a supra- 
human meaning may be found in the work; a psycholog- 
ical intuition which involves both eroticism and violence. 
But more than any other aspect of surrealism, Picasso uses 
a sense or a vision which is magical and which relates him 
to the function of the artist and the meaning of art elab- 
orated on by Mallarme. 

By magic, I mean the extraordinary possession of reality 
which Picasso makes when engaged in the act of painting. 
He has told in this respect a humorous story about him- 
self. During lunch at a friend's house, he had paid par- 
ticular attention to a buffet in the dining-room. Some time 
later, in his studio, he used this buffet, which he had car- 
ried in his memory, in a painting. When he returned later 
to the friend's house, and sat down again for lunch, he was 
surprised to discover that the buffet had disappeared. "I 
must have taken it away," he said, "when I painted it." 
(J'avais du le prendre sans m'en apercevoir en le peignant.) 

Even in those paintings of Picasso which are the most 
explosive, in which the dominant character is dynamism 
of a psychic order, he opens up a dream world of magic 
and the supernatural. Picasso maintains the primitive 
meaning of magician as being the man who explores the 

Picasso 171 

unknown. In this trait, he is close to the demiurge, whose 
role has been captured in the modern world by the artist. 
For the world at large today, the artist, more than the 
priest or the prophet or the magician, reveals the existence 
of an intangible psychic life which is constantly partici- 
pating in our every day life. The artist today is the last 
exponent of the mysteries, the last believer in the duality 
of our world, the last teacher of the method whereby we 
may establish contact with the mysterious and convert the 
mysterious into the credible. 

The large number of paintings and drawings done dur- 
ing the three years 1927-30 are perhaps the richest in terms 
of the pure inventiveness of magical and fabulous forms. 
This series of unusual studies which follow one another in 
a lyrical potency are the productions of Picasso the most 
calculated to affect and control the imagination of the spec- 
tator. One has literally to submit to them, to allow oneself 
to be moved by them. Otherwise they are impossible to 
look at. They are studies of figures which have been caught 
by the painter just at the moment when they are changing 
their form, at the precise moment when they are midway 
between the old form they are leaving and the new form 
they are assuming. There are almost no clues to their iden- 
tity, and that is why it is so difficult to look at them. They 
are events by themselves, separate from the world of men 
and the world of objects. 

This period in Picasso's career might well represent his 
attainment to greatest freedom in the creation of art, 
when he was able so to absorb everything within him, that 
what he actually painted was the abandonment of all he 
saw, the release from all he had experienced. By so com- 
pletely absorbing the real world, he was able to go beyond 
it. He was able to annihilate it and to create in its absence 
visions and forms that man has hardly ever seen. Here 
Picasso showed himself more resolutely anti-conformist 
than ever before. Like Mallarme's cult of the void and of 

172 Age of Surrealism 

absence, where the symbol would so absorb the experience 
that all recognizable narrative element would disappear 
and only the shell of the symbol would remain as the 
poem, only the vain useless beauty of Herodiade as testi- 
monial to an experience we may guess at, so Picasso's cult 
of this exact moment of metamorphosis prevents any com- 
fortable recognition on the part of the spectator either of 
the form from which the study comes or the form toward 
which it is moving. Picasso has depicted the literal act of 
magic, the moment of suspension and suspense between 
two worlds. 

Thus, Picasso cannot be placed solely under the myth 
of Dionysos, god of violence, intoxication, and taurom- 
achy. Dionysos would at most explain only one half of 
his art, as he explains only one aspect of surrealism. An- 
other myth of magic and transformation would have to be 
evoked, to accompany the myth of dynamic violence. I 
suggest that the old legend of Melusine might serve as 
mythical explanation of this particular aspect of Picasso's 
genius. Melusine was the beautiful woman in the myth 
associated especially with the province of Vendee, both 
wife and mother, who was condemned to watch the lower 
part of her body, on the night of each Saturday, turn into 
a serpent's tail. Her husband had promised never to seek 
to look at her on that particular night of the week, be- 
cause if she were ever seen by him as the serpent- woman, 
she would have to remain that. When Melusine was half- 
serpent, on Saturday nights, she was able miraculously to 
fly out of the window and to build castles all over her 
province of Vendee. Not only had she given ten sons to 
her husband, but she was on Saturday nights the chateau- 
constructing fairy. But one Saturday, her husband peeked 
through the key-hole and saw her legs growing into a mon- 
strous tail. And so Melusine was condemned henceforth 
to fly about in the air, to haunt all the places where she 
had once been happy, and each year to detach one stone 

Picasso 173 

from each castle she had built in many Vendee localities: 
Tiffauges, Mervent, Chateaumur, Vouvant. 

Picasso, like Melusine, is an excessive builder, and like 
her seems to inhabit the air as well as the earth. She might 
be called goddess of the fantastic (le merveilleux) presid- 
ing over artists like Picasso who have not ceased dreaming 
of a world truer than the real world. The marvellous is 
perhaps for us today the faculty of wonderment, the power 
of wonderment which is behind many paintings of Picasso 
and which places him in the distinguished line of art- 
ists who created such stories as The Girl and the Uni- 
corn, Beauty and the Beast (converted recently by Cocteau 
into a surrealist film), Alice in Wonderland. 

Picasso is both nihilist and wonder-maker, both Dio- 
nysos and Melusine. But in both roles he is the lover of 
freedom. He recently said, when he joined the Communist 
Party, "Through design and color I have tried to penetrate 
deeper to a knowledge of the world and of men, so that 
this knowledge might free us." During the last few years 
there have been demonstrations in Paris against Picasso, 
first on the occasion of the Salon exhibition in 1944 and 
then at Abbe Morel's lectures on Picasso in the Sorbonne 
in 1946. Different reasons have been offered to explain this 
hostility against the figure, who is perhaps the greatest of 
our age. It is true that the newest paintings are increas- 
ingly difficult to look at and to accept. The fantastic has 
given away again to the violent and the destructive. The 
cycle of changes in Picasso is delirious to follow. The same 
change took place in the career of Joyce, from the simple 
to the complex, from the real to the surreal. Both Picasso 
and Joyce, in their respective arts, observed the doctrine 
of primitivism. For Picasso, as the pictorial artist, there is 
equal value in things seen and not seen, a belief of prim- 
itive man, and this is perhaps the ultimate meaning of 
magic in art. 



The new international surrealist exhibi- 
tion, which opened in Paris, in the Galerie Meaght, in 
July, 1947, came as a very positive reaffirmation of con- 
tinued life among the ranks of the surrealists, and as a 
denial of the charge that the cause of surrealism was en- 
tombed and extinct. The exhibition was directed by 
Marcel Duchamp and Andre Breton, and the actual in- 
stallation and arrangement were in charge of the American 
architect, Frederick Kiesler. The avowed purpose of the 
undertaking was to testify to a persisting cohesion among 
surrealist artists and, more especially, to a program and 
development of their art. The initial announcement of the 
exhibit made much of the fact that the surrealist move- 
ment was the search for a new myth of man and that the 
present display was so arranged as to show the successive 
stages of an initiation. The ground floor of the galery was 
given over to a retrospective exhibit called "les surrealistes 
malgre eux," which included works of pre-surrealists, such 
as Bosch, Arcimbaldo, Blake, Carroll, and works of con- 
temporaries who at some time in their career had been 
associated with surrealism: Chirico, Picasso, Masson, Dali, 

Conclusions 175 

Paalen, Magritte. Then on the second floor, the initiation 
to the various mysteries began. 

Even from this preliminary sketch of the surrealist ex- 
hibition, it is obvious that the surrealists have maintained 
the strictness of their beliefs. The theoreticians have al- 
ways been writers. (For impressionism, on the contrary, 
painters like Seurat and Cezanne defined the aesthetic.) 
And painters, particularly, have found surrealism a diffi- 
cult creed to follow. Andre Masson, for example, has said: 
"I am more a sympathizer with surrealism, than a sur- 
realist or a non-surrealist. The movement is essentially a 
literary movement." 

The underlying forces of surrealism exist in most forms 
of great art. The creative process itself uses the conscious 
and the subconscious and might well be denominated 
as surrealist. The English sculptor, Henry Moore, has 
stated: "All good art has contained both abstract and sur- 
realist elements, just as it has contained both classical and 
romantic elements — order and surprise, intellect and im- 
agination, conscious and unconscious." There is a pedantic 
side to surrealism, an overemphasis on the exclusive use 
of the automatic method of producing a work of art, which 
has perhaps prevented its fullest development. So much 
time and energy have been given over to policing and 
judging, to manifesting and defining, that I often feel the 
greatest works of surrealism are ahead of us, and are yet to 
be produced. 

The existentialists in Paris, since 1944, have taken over 
the first place in the French literary scene. Sartre has more 
or less proclaimed the demise of Breton. He has described 
the surrealists as being in exile among the French because 
they have nothing more to say. The veracity of this ver- 
dict may be strongly doubted. 

The existentialist despair of the 1940's is sombre and 
sullen as contrasted with the surrealist pessimism of the 
1920's and 1930's. Whereas existentialism is essentially 

176 Age of Surrealism 

characterized by a mournfulness and a nauseating submis- 
siveness of existence, of heavy Germanic origin, surrealism 
was born under the guidance of two or three extraordinary 
poets in revolt, adolescents who in their revolt demon- 
strated a fierce energy and demanding human spirit: 
Lautreamont, Rimbaud, Jarry. Whatever greatness and 
productiveness surrealism has achieved is largely due to its 
origins in the revolt of these exceptional adolescents. 
Thanks to them, the surrealist revolt has been mainly con- 
cerned with the two greatest subjects of revolt: love and 

It is not perhaps too early to say that surrealism is essen- 
tially concerned with poetry, and existentialism with phi- 
losophy. The vision of poets is infinitely deeper and more 
fructifying than the vision of philosophers. Poetry has al- 
ways something to do with the primitive and eternal mys- 
teries of man, and philosophy, when all is said, if it remains 
philosophy and doesn't become poetry, is always related to 
mere history. Philosophy is about what men think con- 
cerning the universe at a given time in history. Poetry is 
about what men know concerning the universe, what men 
have always known consciously and subconsciously about 
the universe. Philosophy is timed, as history is; but poetry 
is man's one activity invulnerable to time, his one perma- 
nency. Poetry is the annihilation of the moment, or of 
any unity of time, and the surrealists made this doctrine 
into their ecstasy and glory. If it weren't for the fertility 
of the surrealist poets today, in the 1940's, for the poetry 
of Reverdy, Prevert, Michaux, Eluard, Aime Cesaire, 
French letters would be completely submerged in the exis- 
tentialist nausea. 

The time will come, if it has not already come, when 
the surrealist enterprise will be studied and evaluated, in 
the history of literature, as an adventure of hope. The 
passion for knowledge, expressed more poetically than phil- 
osophically, which means perhaps, more mythically than 

Conclusions 177 

metaphysically, underlies all the surrealist works. Human 
nature, which they studied, is limitless, as well as their 
curiosity about it. Everything can help in their study of 
human nature: dreams, subconscious states, eroticisms. But 
all these represent means by which to attain to that ulti- 
mate goal of man: his total liberation. Breton's celebrated 
phrase, le seul mot de liberte . . . , stands as the funda- 
mental surrealist attitude. 

In describing the form and the function of the image in 
poetry, I have already used the analogy with an object 
which is cut loose from the world, which is allowed to rise 
up by itself into the air, separated from the bonds and the 
reality with which it is usually joined. This process applies 
in a general way to surrealist art which possesses the genius 
of flight and lightness and airiness. It is a winging up- 
wards. When it fails in its act of flight, when it has not 
loosened itself from all the bonds which hold it down to 
its original forms and models, it fails in achieving itself in 
its surrealist renovation. This process of flight upwards 
has its necessary counterpart, in the tradition of surreal- 
ism, in the flight downwards, the free uninhibited descent 
into sleep and dreams where modern man is able to engage 
in a primitive mode of activity, where, according to the 
theory of Freud, he is able to experience a decrease in his 
repressions, and where he ceases to resist authentic parts 
of his nature. 

By these two flights, the surrealist realizes himself: first, 
by his winging upwards, by reenacting the myth of Deda- 
lus and becoming the man-bird; and second, by his floating 
downwards, by reenacting the myth of Joseph and becom- 
ing the dreamer. Dedalus and Joseph opposed a total en- 
slavement to the real, as the surrealists exercise their will 
in freeing themselves from the familiar objects which sur- 
round them. This fundamental act of the surrealist is the 
gesture of freedom, a deep-seated instinct in man to de- 
stroy what attaches him to the world: rules of the family, 

178 Age of Surrealism 

of society, of the state, of sexuality. Surrealism began as an 
effort to destroy art itself: canvases and books; and to ob- 
literate the usual appearances of nature. It continued in 
its revolutionary and liberating flights to such a degree and 
with such doggedness that the entire movement may be 
seen as an angelic temptation, as a great fear of falling 
down from the air to the earth. 

The revolt of the early adolescents, of Lautr£amont and 
Rimbaud, had in it a deep fascination for the spiritual ab- 
solute, for the total transcendency of the world. The need 
for a spiritual absolute is felt more deliriously in adoles- 
cence than at any other time. In a period of war, such as 
our own, the number of adolescents in the world, those 
who live by revolt, diminishes, with the result that the 
urgency of human enthusiasm, of revolt, of spiritual tran- 
scendency, is manifested only slightly. Surrealism repre- 
sented for the young the fantastic (le merveilleux) and 
limitless possibilities of existence, a salvation by means of 
dream, love, desire, liberty. If existentialism treats the soli- 
tude of an individual man in an absurd world where every 
gesture of freedom is vain, surrealism starts from the emp- 
tiness and corruption of the world to mount on an impulse 
of implicit hope toward the limitless sky. 


Throughout the history of surrealism 
there has been an evident tendency to consider it a cause 
or even a battle. Its superficial or exaggerated aspects af- 
fect, more than we realize, our daily life. Advertisements 
and posters, movies, ladies' dresses and especially hats, car- 
toons like Barnaby, have been influenced by surrealism. 
But as a cause, and even as a way of life, it has deeply 
affected and transformed only a small number of men. 
(The recent film of Noel Coward, This Happy Breed, de- 
picts the same period of years as that of surrealism, 1919- 
39, and shows no trace of the movement.) It is perhaps 

Conclusions 179 

too early for surrealism to have created any great heroes 
and heroines. The novels and the epics, where individual 
characters will be celebrated, have not yet appeared, and 
of course may never appear. 

In terms of heroes, surrealism may have to content 
itself with the legends of Lautr£amont and Rimbaud, al- 
though in time it may well be that the literary artists will 
create works about such figures as the three men who com- 
mitted suicide. Surrealism, like every other cause, has its 
martyrology. Jacques Vache, the young friend of Breton 
in Nantes, whom I referred to in the first chapter, died 
in 1918. He bequeathed the initial hate for literature and 
scorn for traditional art. By the habits of his life he was the 
type of mystifying dandy who played on the absurdity of 
life. Then, on the 5th of November, 1929, the young secre- 
tary of Jacques-Emile Blanche, Jacques Rigaut, shot him- 
self. His case is so complex to unravel that legend has 
already taken hold of it. The death of Rene Crevel, in 
1935, is the third in this series. His case is tied up with 
the relationship between surrealism and communism. Cre- 
vel was a handsome, universally loved fellow, courted and 
imprisoned by the fair ladies of worldly society and by the 
mannequins of fashion. After his conversion to commu- 
nism, he was expelled from the party, with Breton and 
Eluard, in 1933, but was absolved and reinstated soon 
after. His fidelity to Breton was exemplary. The day of his 
suicide was the opening of the "Congress of writers for the 
defense of culture" (Congres des ecrivains pour la defense 
de la culture), the congress at which the surrealists were 
refused permission to speak. 

The meaning of these three deaths is limitless. Vache 
represents the dandy, the game of life, the precious notion 
of accident. Rigaut marks the revolt against art and love, 
and a marriage with mystery. Crevel's legend seems to lie 
nearer to the attraction of fidelity and the fatalness of dis- 
appointment. In any case, beyond whatever interpretation 

180 Age of Surrealism 

may be given to any one of these cases, the three suicides 
have taken on for the surrealists the expression of surreal- 
ism itself, which is always the extreme of liberation, or, if 
we use the politically-connotative word, of liberalism, "of 
freedom," as Kenneth Burke defines it, "projected into the 
aesthetic domain." 

The heroes express a Maldororian defiance in constantly 
changing their form, in accentuating the principle of meta- 
morphosis and diversity. The centaur, the man-horse, is an 
excellent symbol of the surrealist hero, because he is char- 
acterized by a will to efface any distinct resemblance with 
either a horse or a man, and to partake incongruously and 
triumphantly of two natures. 

Likewise, the surrealist heroine, as in the painting of 
Pollaiuolo, which hangs in the National Gallery in Lon- 
don, on the subject of Apollo and Daphne, represents a 
dual nature. Daphne is caught by the artist just at the mo- 
ment of her transformation, when, in flight, her arms are 
becoming branches. In Andre Breton's Nadja, the heroine 
is the type of the woman-child (la femme-enfant) who ex- 
ists in a dream-world and a real-world at the same time, 
who has all the resources of feline independence and se- 
ductiveness. Nadja can be successively playful and nostal- 
gic, gay and melancholy, and all these varied tempera- 
ments are put at the service of the man-genius. All these 
moods serve to induce in the genius a deeper awareness of 
himself and his art. The beauty of woman, in its multiple 
manifestations and artifices, serves to make the worry and 
agitation of man appear vain to himself. 

Melusine is an extreme example of the woman-child. 
She is the female counterpart of the centaur-image of man, 
because she is woman and serpent. The moment of the 
fatal Saturday nights when the lower part of her body 
changes into a serpent tail corresponds to the moment in the 
story of Daphne when her arms change into the branches 
of a tree and her legs into the roots of a tree. The surreal- 

Conclusions 181 

ist emphasis on this moment of metamorphosis heightens 
the dual nature of man and woman, and their relationship 
with the material world. On the tragic Saturday night 
when Melusine was seen by her husband to be the woman- 
serpent, there is, of course, a very evident parallel between 
Melusine and Eve. Woman represents such a unique and 
overpowering knowledge of the world that it will have to 
be hidden from man. She is the source of the "fantastic" 
in the world, and he is mere spectator or poet, the one who 
contemplates the "marvellous" without understanding it. 

In the legend, at the moment when Melusine knows that 
she has been seen by her husband, she looks out of the 
window into the night which is now for her the night of 
enchantments through which she is going to fly. After 
being pure woman tempted by the serpent (Eve), she be- 
comes the serpent- woman, fairy of the air who penetrates 
the night and casts a spell over it (Melusine), until in the 
advent of day, she is transformed into the star of the morn- 
ing, or star of the sea: Stella maris (Mary). 

After the examples of the poet's solitude, in Baudelaire, 
Rimbaud, Lautreamont; and after the examples of the 
three surrealists who risked their talents and their lives: 
Vache, Rigaut, Crevel — the example of woman: in Hero- 
diade, who wills to become the sister of night, motionless 
and useless like the jewels and metals in the earth, in 
Nadja, who moves as in a spell between the extremes of 
dream and reality, in the legend of Melusine, who is fated 
to haunt the night air and the castles she constructed mi- 
raculously — illustrates a oneness which is not a solitude, for 
it is without torment. Woman is so able to merge with the 
cosmos that she becomes it and loses her specific name and 
identity. Everything is really explained by the fact that the 
surrealist hero is Lautreamont or Vache, a man character- 
ized by his particular drama of solitude, and that the sur- 
realist-heroine is Daphne or Melusine or even Cathy in 
Wuthering Heights, whose drama is not solitude but ex- 

182 Age of Surrealism 

pansion, change, absorption, the magical combining of 
lives and states of being. 


In Breton's first manifesto, in 1924, he 
indicated considerable scorn for the form of the novel. He 
seemed to consider it a banal game of information, a kind 
of chess game where each move is calculated long in ad- 
vance, where the author knows omnisciently each action 
of his hero. The art form of the novel appeared false to 
Breton because it was too willfully contrived, too tricky. 
But twenty years later, in his lecture delivered at Yale Uni- 
versity, he seems somewhat to have modified his views. He 
expressed admiration for such a novel as Gracq's Au Cha- 
teau d'Argol, and opened up the possibility of a surrealist 
novel in which the characters would be endowed with ex- 
ceptional powers of freedom, in which the hero would not 
be fixed in a formula of a given sociological setting and 
well-defined motivations, but in which he would illustrate 
the equivocal, contradictory, and disturbing elements of 
human nature. The surrealist novel would perhaps stress 
the vacillation and change in human nature. It might even 
create a new species of man or recreate the ancient species 
of man-god. In the metamorphosis of man to archangel, 
man would know the sacred, and in the demonic metamor- 
phosis he would know the sacrilegious. The sacred and the 
sacrilegious have affinities in the same way that reality and 
surreality do. In the same way that the sacred myth of the 
Grail was demonized in the 19th century by Wagner in 
his opera Parsifal, so the realism of the novel, in the oppo- 
site process, tends to become surrealism when a character 
is dilated and expanded into a mythical character. 

In the last episode of Joyce's Ulysses, the long soliloquy 
of Molly Bloom, composed of eight sentences of 5000 
words each, the character has ceased being real in any 

Conclusions 183 

usual sense. She is lying down in bed and the words which 
pass through her in her half-dream, half-conscious state, 
convert her into the mythical figure of woman, into the 
figure of the earth itself. She becomes united with the 
movement of the earth and nature, as if she were a planet 
caught up in perpetual rotation in space. The figure of 
man, beside this mythical representation of woman, is di- 
minished and almost comic. He appears like a puppet or 
a toy in the presence of the cosmic purposefulness of 
woman. And yet an important dignity is accorded to him 
in the final word of Molly's soliloquy. To the mythical 
representation of man, the symbol of departure, interrup- 
tion, restlessness, search — woman, symbol of rotation, per- 
manence, and nature, always says yes. If the symbol of 
woman for Joyce is the earth in Ulysses, or the river in 
Finnegans Wake, the symbol of man is Dedalus, the man- 
bird, that being who is a visionary, a voyant, endowed with 
miraculous powers of search. Man, in Joyce, reaches his 
fullest mythical conception as wanderer, either as son: 
Stephen-Hamlet, in search of a father; or as father: Bloom- 
Earwicker in search of a son. Ulysses, the story of twenty- 
four hours in Dublin, becomes Finnegans Wake, the story 
of all humanity, from Adam on. 

Joyce as a technician is the opposite of Mallarme, whose 
art is condensation and compression. Mallarme's final sur- 
realist poem, Un coup de des, attempts perhaps to summa- 
rize and to resolve the story of man almost by means of 
typography, by the sparseness of his text and the whiteness 
of his page. But the art of Joyce moves in the other direc- 
tion toward a concrete thickness and complexity. His art 
is the decomposing of syllables, sounds, and even letters 
and their reconstruction in prolonged new syntheses and 
meanings. The Anna Livia passage is the poem of the river 
Liffey whose Latin name was Amnis Livia. Anna Livia is 
river, nymph, woman, and the text of Joyce is as fast flow- 

184 Age of Surrealism 

ing and elusive as that river which Heroclitus, surrealist 

dialectician, told us long ago we could never bathe in 


But Joyce was at all times too conscious a technician, 
too aware of pattern and ritual, to be associated in a lit- 
eral sense with surrealism. The case of Henry Miller is 
far more applicable. His Tropic of Capricorn, the book 
which Miller himself prefers to all his others, is quite iden- 
tifiable with surrealist art. The character Mona is as mys- 
terious and enigmatical as Nadja. She is sought after in 
the same mythical terms by which Apollinaire'.s Mal-Aime 
searches for his beloved as if she represented both woman 
and the secret of existence, the blind impulse which man 
follows in his longing for the Absolute. 

Miller learned to write by writing. When he began 
writing, he encountered the usual problem of the young 
writer: that of having an overabundance of rich emotions 
and of having no focus for a literary expression of the emo- 
tions. The art of writing is the converting of an experience 
into the experience of writing. Henry Miller is as omniv- 
orous a reader as he is a fertile writer. He reads, in an un- 
academic fashion, haphazardly, works which are often of 
a religious philosophical nature, or of a visionary pro- 
phetic kind, such as the writings of Blake, Rimbaud, D. H. 
Lawrence. This exercise of reading has provided him with 
both stimulation and focus for his own writings. In Paris, 
when he came upon the surrealists and especially the mani- 
festoes of Breton, he was strongly attracted to surrealism, 
and although he never actively joined the movement, he 
has always manifested an interest and even a kinship with 

Miller's method of writing at moments of enthusiasm 
and fervor, and in great jets of fertility as if he were hyp- 
notized, and directed, and dictated to, is unquestionably 
very close to the surrealist method. He imposes no pre- 
conceived form on his narrative, which is more rhapsody 

Conclusions 185 

than narration. In his greatest passages, which are long sus- 
tained dithyrambs in lyric prose, charged with surrealist 
images in free association, propelled by listings and inven- 
tories forming a background on which the images grow 
and impinge, Henry Miller gives the impression of exer- 
cising his spirit, of revealing it as few writers ever have, 
and hence of indicating the endless possibilities of surreal- 
ism. His search and inquietude are more religious, and 
even more mystical than those of the early surrealists; they 
are closer to the examples of Lautreamont and Rimbaud. 
JjLJn time, when the inane falsely moralistic controversies 
over Miller are exhausted in America and France, his 
books will be reconsidered as the great lyric expression of 
our twilight world. 

It would be quite justifiable to read Miller's book Black 
Spring as an example of prose written in exceptional free- 
dom, in surrealist freedom, where accident or hazard is 
juxtaposed with drama, and where dreams especially fill 
the fast moving canvas. Miller constantly relives the drama 
of childhood, the drama of the 14th ward in Brooklyn. 
"Each man," he tells us, is "his own civilized desert, the 
island of self on which he is shipwrecked." Each artistic 
work, he seems to consider a flight off from this island of 
self, and he alludes to the classic flights of Melville, Rim- 
baud, Gauguin, Henry James, D. H. Lawrence. 

One of the chapters in Black Spring, a passage of about 
twenty pages entitled The Angel Is My Water-Mark!, is in 
one respect a treatise on the surrealist method of composi- 
tion. In it Miller describes his painting a water-color. He 
feels like a water-color and then he does one. He begins by 
drawing a horse. (Miller has vaguely in mind the Etrus- 
can horses he had seen in the Louvre.) At one moment the 
horse resembles a hammock and then when he adds stripes, 
it becomes a zebra. He adds a tree, a mountain, an angel, 
cemetery gates. These are the forms which occur almost 
unpredictably on his paper. He submits it to the various 

186 Age of Surrealism 

processes: of smudging, of soaking it in the sink, of holding 
it upside down and letting the colors coagulate. Finally it 
is done: a masterpiece which has come about by accident. 
But he says that the 23rd psalm was another accident. He 
looks at the water-color and sees it to be the result of mis- 
takes, erasures, hesitations, but "also the result of certi- 
tude." Every work of art has to be credited, in some 
mysterious way, to every artist. So Miller credits Dante, 
Spinoza, and Hieronymous Bosch for his little water-color. 
I should like to quote the last page of this passage as an 
example both of surrealist art and surrealist theory. It is 
in two paragraphs, and, although it may well have been 
written without revision, it has its own structure and form. 
The first paragraph is composed of a series of questions, a 
list of possible things you might see, through the power of 
association, as you look at the picture. They are the pri- 
vate objects which an individual spectator will see and 
which come as much from him as from the painting. Then 
the second paragraph describes the one object in the paint- 
ing which cannot be missed, the angel, formed by the 
water-mark. If you hold a beautiful piece of paper up to 
the light, you see its tracery, its real nature, its water-mark. 
In Miller's painting, the angel is the water-mark, the one 
element which cannot be scrubbed out, because if it were, 
the painting would cease to be a painting: 

"My masterpiece! It's like a splinter under the 
nail. I ask you, now that you are looking at it, do you see 
in it the lakes beyond the Urals? do you see the mad 
Kotchei balancing himself with a paper parasol? do you 
see the arch of Trajan breaking through the smoke of Asia? 
do you see the penguins thawing in the Himalayas? do you 
see the Creeks and the Seminoles gliding through the 
cemetery gates? do you see the fresco from the Upper Nile, 
with its flying geese, its bats and aviaries? do you see the 
marvellous pommels of the Crusaders and the saliva that 
washed them down? do you see the wigwams belching fire? 

Conclusions 187 

do you see the alkali sinks and the mule bones and the 
gleaming borax? do you see the tomb of Belshazzar, or the 
ghoul who is rifling it? do you see the new mouths which 
the Colorado will open up? do you see the star-fish lying on 
their backs and the molecules supporting them? do you see 
the bursting eyes of Alexander, or the grief that inspired 
it? do you see the ink on which the squibs are feeding? 

"No, I'm afraid you don't! You see only the bleak 
blue angel frozen by the glaciers. You do not even see the 
umbrella ribs, because you are not trained to look for um- 
brella ribs. But you see an angel, and you see a horse's ass. 
And you may keep them: they are for you! There are no 
pock-marks on the angel now — only a cold blue spot-light 
which throws into relief his fallen stomach and his broken 
arches. The angel is there to lead you to Heaven, where it 
is all plus and no minus. The angel is there like a water- 
mark, a guarantee of your faultless vision. The angel has 
no goitre; it is the artist who has the goitre. The angel is 
there to drop sprigs of parsley in your omelette, to put a 
shamrock in your buttonhole. I could scrub the mythology 
out of the horse's mane; I could scrub the yellow out of 
the Yangtsze-Kiang; I could scrub the date out of the man 
in the gondola; I could scrub out the clouds and the tissue 
paper in which were wrapped the bouquets with forked 
lightning. . . . But the angel I can't scrub out. The angel 
is my water-mark" 


The most deeply spiritual aspect of sur- 
realism, at times clearly acknowledged as in Breton's first 
Manifeste, but at all times actively pervasive, is the will to 
stress the continuities and similarities in men. Whenever 
the mind is able to penetrate into the dark degree of 
knowledge where opposites cease conflicting with one an- 
other, it has reached a surrealistic state. In Eureka, Poe 
describes the moment when the heart of man is confused 

188 Age of Surrealism 

with the heart of divinity. The surrealist experiment is the 
most recent way (and the most ancient as well) of recon- 
ciling man with the universe. In the Purgatorio, canto 18, 
where Dante has seen the spirits of the slothful, he becomes 
conscious of a new thought set within him and describes 
how many other thoughts spring from it, so that finally he 
closes his eyes through drowsiness and says surrealistically 
at the very end of the canto: 

e il pensamento in sogno transmutai 
("and I transmuted thought into a dream") 

Surrealism, in stressing the relationship between and even 
the identity of spirit and matter, differs from supernatu- 
ralism which in its Greek, Hebraic, and Christian forms 
emphasizes the dualism of spirit and matter. 

The movement itself, especially at its beginnings, and 
to some degree through its brief history, is best character- 
ized by its rejection, its violent and revolutionary rejec- 
tion, of the human condition of man. The idea of warfare 
against the purely human condition of man occupies the 
dark center and focus of surrealism. Revolution is always 
associated with sacrifice, with the idea of a personal dispo- 
sition for sacrifice. The history of French letters from Bau- 
delaire to Vache and Crevel, from Lautreamont to Nadja 
of Andre Breton and Au Chateau d'Argoloi Julien Gracq, 
might be described as an extraordinary disposition toward 
holocaust, wherein the hero is damned and sacrificed. 
Georges Bataille, who was influenced by surrealism, wrote 
in his book U Experience Interieure: Nous sommes con- 
duits a faire la part du feu. ("We are led to participate in 
the fire.") 

In countless passages of Baudelaire's Mon coeur mis a 
nu, we can read an apocalyptic resonance, a terrifying vision 
of man as sacrificial victim. Baudelaire saw in Poe a victim 
of conscience, an example of premeditated immolation. In 

Conclusions 189 

the art of Daumier, the sacrifice of man is derisive and sar- 
donically bitter, but in Baudelaire, it takes on the form of 
a mission, of an altar celebration and sacrifice. In his three 
categories of great men, the poet, the priest, and the sol- 
dier, we have the singer, the sacrificer, and the sacrificed. 
They are all united in a single ritual. (Mon coeur mis a 
nu: 48). From this aspect of revolutionary martyrdom, 
from Baudelaire's notations on the supernatural volup- 
tuousness which man feels in seeing his own blood flow, 
the surrealists derived a tendency to depict sanguinary 
marvels. What represents their efforts of liberation, inter- 
pretation, and sincerity, often turn out to be a black des- 
perate kind of caricature. This is not their fault, however, 
but the world's and the great distance the modern world 
has moved away from a belief in the free will of man and 
the ultimate chance of his victory. The patrimony of ro- 
manticism, on which we are all living, in the center of 
which men like Baudelaire, Lautreamont, and Jacques 
Vache opened up the darkest regions, has to be used up 
first and completely exhausted before the sense of carica- 
ture will disappear from modern man's enterprises, such 
as surrealism. 

Jean-Paul Sartre, in a recently published introduction to 
the Ecrits Intimes of Baudelaire, has passed a cruel verdict 
on the poet, but one that is quite in keeping with existen- 
tialist philosophy. Sartre refuses to believe in the Greek 
myth of the fates or the Christian myth of God's mercy and 
intervention in affairs of the world. Baudelaire made his 
own destiny and was completely responsible for his own 
suffering according to Sartre. Because he willed to make 
himself into the passive type, the boy who submitted him- 
self to his parents, and then the man who submitted him- 
self to the will of his mistress and usurers, he became the 
type of the fouette, the man whipped. 

What Sartre seems to have forgotten, or what he de- 
liberately refuses to include in his analysis of Baudelaire, 

190 Age of Surrealism 

is the deliverance and liberation which the poem itself 
brought to Baudelaire. The act of writing for the poet was 
always the act of discovering the unity of the world, and 
there the surrealists have fervently perpetuated the lesson 
of Baudelaire. For Baudelaire and the surrealists, the imag- 
ination is not simply that faculty of the poet which creates 
and combines images. It is the faculty which goes much 
more deeply, in the discovery of the ancient belief in the 
world's unity. It is the faculty able to call upon the sub- 
conscious forces which relate this belief. The doctrine of 
Baudelaire's Correspondances may be traced back to an- 
cient Greece and ahead to the surrealist experiments with 
poetry where the human spirit is seen to be a single spark 
in the midst of a cosmic flame. The region described in 
Baudelaire's Invitation au Voyage — La tout nest qu'ordre 
et beaute — is that point where the human spirit partici- 
pates in everything, where the one is apprehended in the 
multiple. Examine the final stanza of the poem as an ex- 
ample of a surreal picture of the world, as a communion 
with a peacefulness where opposites are united. 

In his Confiteor de V Artiste, Baudelaire speaks of the 
solitude and the silence of the poet where all things think 
through him or where he thinks through them. {Solitude, 
silence, incomparable chastete de Vazur! . . . toutes ces 
choses pensent par moi, ou je pense par elles.) His mysti- 
cism, like that of surrealism, is more heterodox than ortho- 
dox, more a communion with himself and the universe, 
than with divinity. He has called his worship of images, in 
one of his most important sentences of Mon coeur mis a 
nu, his unique primitive passion, (glorifier le culte des 
images, ma grande, mon unique, ma primitive passion) In 
his two sets of images, those of spleen and those of the 
ideal, Baudelaire described the schizoid nature of our civil- 
ization, as dramatically as the Netherlands painter, Jerome 
Bosch, 450 years before surrealism, described the same na- 
ture, in the infernal vision of mysteries, such as his Temp- 

Conclusions 191 

tation of St. Anthony in Lisbon. Baudelaire and Bosch 
would agree with the surrealists that much of man's inner 
life is composed of caverns, fearful, guiltful nightmares 
which must be explored, and whose projection in art is a 
liberation of the human spirit. 

Baudelaire was among the first to see in modern life, in 
modernism as we call it now, the epic possibilities which 
the surrealists especially have exploited. He was one of the 
first to see the sublime motifs and the particular kind of 
heroism in modern life. One hundred years ago, in his 
Salon notes of 1846, he wrote a page on "heroism in mod- 
ern life" in which he describes Paris as beset by occult and 
contradictory forces. This is the passage in which he de- 
fines beauty as composed of an eternal element and a tran- 
sitory element and in which he states that the moderns 
have their own kind of beauty. Cleopatra's suicide differs 
from the modern suicide. The everlasting black suit which 
the modern bourgeois feels he must wear in his evening 
functions, Baudelaire elaborates on as the expression of the 
public soul, the parade of modern politicians, lovers, and 
bourgeois who are all celebrating, without realizing it, 
their own funeral. 

But Baudelaire would agree with the surrealists that 
even in this modern age when men dress in black suits, the 
marvellous (le merveilleux) surrounds us and feeds us as 
the atmosphere does. During most of its life, the human 
spirit lives in exile. In the creation of poetry, it leaves its 
exile and returns into its natural climate, into the region 
where it acquires its full powers of enchantment and witch- 
craft and transformation. Realism is always just below po- 
etry as mythology is always just above. Surrealism is an 
exceptional way by which a correspondence is established 
between realism and mythology. 

Poetry is a definitive language. It may come from a va- 
riety of experiences. Love, for example, in itself a transi- 
tory and changing experience, when it is transformed into 

192 Age of Surrealism 

a sonnet or an elegy, becomes a miraculously fixed and 
surreal experience. Keats says about the lovers depicted on 
the Grecian Urn: 

For ever warm and still to be enjoy 'd, 
For ever panting, and for ever young; 
All breathing human passion far above. 

Surrealism is the most recent effort to establish a com- 
munion between the poet and the world, between the poet 
and the masses of men or the coolness of a forest or a 
church or a prairie. The poet is the man most able to pro- 
ject and prolong his civilization into the future, because 
he transmits a divinized or surrealistic picture of every- 
thing in his own world, war and peace, joy and tears, to 
the man of the future. Poetry is at once a practice and a 
deliverance of the spirit. 


General Works on Surrealism 

Balakian, Anna, Literary Origins of Surrealism, King's 

Crown Press, New York, 1947. 
Lemaitre, Georges E., From Cubism to Surrealism in 

French Literature, Harvard University Press, 

Cambridge, 1941. 
Nadeau, Maurice, Histoire du Surrealisme , Editions du 

Seuil, Paris, 1946. 
Nadeau, Maurice, Documents Surrealistes, Editions du 

Seuil, Paris, 1948. 
Raymond, Marcel, De Baudelaire au Surrealisme, Correa, 

Paris, 1933. 
Reed, Herbert, Surrealism, Faber, London, 1936. 

Articles on Surrealism 

Bataille, Georges, Le Surrealisme et^ sa difference avec 
V existentialisme , Critique, No. 2, juillet 1946. 

Blanchot, Maurice, A propos du surrealisme, L'Arche, 
aout 1945. 

La Rochelle, Drieu, La veritable erreur des surrealistes, 
N.R.F. aout 1925. 

194 Age of Surrealism 

Peyre, Henri, The Significance of Surrealism, Yale French 

Studies, Fall- Winter, 1948. 
Reneville, Rolland de, Dernier etat de la poesie surrealiste , 

N.R.F. fevrier 1932. 
Ribemont-Dessaignes, Histoire de Dada, N.R.F. juin-aout 

Riviere, Jacques, Reconnaissance a Dada, N.R.F. aout 


Other Works to Consult 

Aragon, Louis, Le Paysan de Paris, Gallimard, 1926. 
Aragon, Louis, Traite du Style, Gallimard, 1928. 
Baruzi, Joseph, La Volonte de Metamorphose, Grasset, 

Cassou, Jean, Pour la Poesie, Correa, 1935. 
Maritain, Jacques, Les Frontieres de la Poesie, Plon, 1927. 
Monnerot, Jules, La poesie moderne et le sacre, Gallimard, 

Reneville, Rolland de, L' Experience Poetique, Gallimard, 

Reneville, Rolland de, Univers de la Parole, Gallimard, 

Vache, Jacques, Lettres de Guerre, Au Sans Pareil, 1919. 


Lautreamont, Oeuvres completes, Corti, 1938. 
Bachelard, Gaston, Lautreamont, Corti, 1939. 
Blanchot, Maurice, Lautreamont et le mirage des sources, 

Critique, No. 25, juin 1948. 
Pierre-Quint, Leon, Le comte de Lautreamont et Dieu, 

Cahiers du Sud, 1930. 
Soupault, Philippe, Lautreamont, Cahiers Libres, 1927. 


Rimbaud, Arthur, Oeuvres Completes, Edition de la 
Pleiade, 1946. 

Selected Bibliography 195 

Blanchot, Maurice, Le Sommeil de Rimbaud, Critique, 

No. 10, 1947. 
Etiemble et Gauclere, Rimbaud, Gallimard, 1936. 
Fowlie, Wallace, Rimbaud, New Directions, 1946. 
Fowlie, Wallace, Rimbaud in 1949, Poetry, December 

Hackett, C. A. Rimbaud I'enfant, Corti, 1948. 
Reneville, Rolland de, Rimbaud le Voyant, Au Sans Pa- 

reil, 1929. 
Starkie, Enid, Arthur Rimbaud, Hamish Hamilton, 1947. 


Mallarme, Stephane, Oeuvres Completes, Edition de la 
Pleiade, 1945. 

Beausire, Pierre, Essai sur la Poesie et la Poetique de Mal- 
larme, Roth, 1942. 

Cohn, Robert Greer, Mallarme' s Un Coup de Des, Yale 
French Studies, New Haven, 1949. 

Fowlie, Wallace, Mallarme, University of Chicago Press 
(to be published in 1951). 

Mondor, Henri, Vie de Mallarme, Gallimard, 1942. 


Apollinaire, Guillaume, Alcools, Gallimard, 1927. 

Apollinaire, Calligrammes, Gallimard, 1936. 

Apollinaire, Les Mamelles de Tiresias, Editions Sic, 1918. 

Billy, Andre, Apollinaire vivant, La Sirene, 1923. 

Shattuck, Roger, Apollinaire (translations), New Direc- 
tions, 1950. 

Soupault, Philippe, Apollinaire ou les reflets de Vincendie, 
Cahiers du Sud, 1927. 


Breton, Andre, Manifeste du Surrealisme, Kra, 1924. 
Breton, Andre, Nadja, Gallimard, 1928. 

196 Age of Surrealism 

Breton, Andre, Second Manifeste du Surrealisme, Kra, 

Breton, Andre, Le Surrealisme et la Peinture, Brentano's, 

Breton, Andre, The Situation of Surrealism between the 

Two Wars, Yale French Studies, Fall-Winter, 

Gracq, Julien, Andre Breton ou VAme d'un Mouvement, 

Fontaine 58. 
Pfeiffer, Jean, Situation de Breton, L'Arche, juillet, 1946. 


Cocteau, Jean, Le Rappel a VOrdre, Stock, 1926. 
Cocteau, Jean, Orphee, Stock, 1930. 
Cocteau, Jean, Essai de Critique Indirecte, Grasset, 1932. 
Mauriac, Claude, Jean Cocteau, Odette Lieutier, 1945. 


Eluard, Paul, Capitale de la Douleur, Gallimard, 1926. 

Eluard, Paul, Donner a voir, Gallimard, 1939. 

Eluard, Paul, Chanson Complete, Gallimard, 1939. 

Balakian, Anna, The Post-Surrealism of Aragon and Elu- 
ard, Yale French Studies, Fall- Winter 1948. 

Carrouges, Michel, Eluard et Claudel, Du Seuil, 1945. 

Delattre, Andre, Personal Notes on Paul Eluard, Yale 
French Studies, Winter 1948. 

Seeley, Carol, The Poetry of Paul Eluard, Western Re- 
view, Fall 1949. 

Parrot, Louis, Paul Eluard, Seghers, 1944. 


Apollinaire, Guillaume, Les Peintres Cubistes, 1912. 
Barr, Alfred H., Picasso: fifty years of his art, N. Y. Mu- 
seum of Modern Art, 1946. 
Cocteau, Jean, Carte Blanche, 1920. 

Selected Bibliography 197 

Eluard, Paul, A Pablo Picasso, Trois Collines, Geneve, 

Laporte, Paul, Space-time concept in Picasso, Magazine of 

Art, January 1948. 
Raynal, Maurice, Picasso, L'Art d'aujourd'hui, Paris, 1924. 
Uhde, Wilhelm, Picasso et la tradition francaise, Editions 

des quatre-chemins, 1928. 


Aeschylus 42 

Age of Anxiety 92 

Aigle a deux tetes 121, 122 

Alain-Fournier 16 

Anouilh 121 

Antigone 121, 122, 157 

Apollinaire 12, 22, 23, 83-101, 
103, 104, 105, 116, 142, 159, 
160, 162, 163, 164, 184 

Apres-Midi d'un Faune 65, 159 

Aquinas 26 

Aragon 21, 22, 51, 110, 111, 112 

Arcana Coelestina 68 

Arcimbaldo 174 

A rebours 82 

Aristophanes 43 

Aristotle 14, 27 

Au Chateau d'Argol 182, 188 

Auden 92 

Axel 65, 66 

Azur 65 

Balzac 16, 109 

Bankhead 121 

Barres 104 

Bataille, Georges 188 

Bateau Ivre 47, 56, 59, 97 

Baudelaire 12, 16, 22, 25-27, 36- 

38, 40, 42, 45, 46, 57, 61, 62, 
66-68, 76, 78-81, 99, 108, 112, 
140-144, 149, 155, 181, 188-191 

Belitt 57 

Bergson 19, 20, 55, 86, 104 

Billy 85 

Birth of Tragedy 80 

Black Spring 185-187 

Blake 61, 174, 184 

Blanche 179 

Bloy 33 

Boeuf sur le Toit 121 

Bonniot 69 

Bosch 174, 186, 190, 191 

Braque 22, 160, 165, 166 

Breton 11, 12, 21-23, 77, 79, 80, 
102-118, 127, 140, 142, 143, 145, 
164, 165, 168, 174, 175, 177, 
179, 180, 182, 184, 187 

Bronte, Emily 156 

Brunetiere 14 

Burke, Kenneth 155, 180 

Byron 79 

Cadavre, Un 110, 112 
Calligrammes 100, 106 
Cantique de saint Jean 69 
Capitale de la douleur 146, 150 



Carra 113 

Carroll 174 

Castiglione 120 

Cavalcanti 146 

Caves du Vatican 18, 19, 164 

Celle de toujours, toute 151 

Cendrars 31 

Cervantes 167 

Cesaire 176 

Cezanne 161, 165, 175 

Chanson Complete 153, 155 

Chanson du Mal-Aime 93, 94-98, 
100, 184 

Chants de Maldoror 33-44, 46, 
109, 167 

Chaplin 43, 98, 100, 163 
Chateaubriand 21, 43, 77 
Chatterton 66 
4 Chirico 104, 113, 123, 164, 167, 
170, 174 
Claudel 29, 60, 93, 104 
Cocteau 12, 98, 110, 119, 120-137, 

151, 157-161, 164, 173 
Coleridge 155 
Colet 136 
Corot 161 

Correspondances 190 
Couleur du Temps 116 
Coup de des 106, 183 
Coward 178 
Crevel 179, 181, 188 

Dali 35, 106, 112-115, 142, 170, 

Daniel 109 

Dante 12, 40, 42, 76, 186, 188 
Daumier 189 
Debussy 86 
Degas 164 

Delacroix 79, 81, 87, 164 
Demeny 49, 53 
Derain 22 
Derate 22 

Desnos 51, 52, 79, 109, 112, 113 
Diaghilev 160 

Age of Surrealism 

Don Giovanni 52 
Dostoievski 18, 62, 79 
Ducasse cf. Lautreamont 
Duchamp 106, 174 
Dufy 91, 121 
Dullin 157 
Duval 79, 81 

El Greco 165 
Eliot 93, 141 

Eluard 11, 21, 22, 33, 79, 103, 110, 
113, 114, 116, 138-156, 176, 179 
Ernst 110, 138, 142, 170 
Eureka 187 
Experience Interieure 188 

Faust 78 

Fernandel 43 

Finnegans Wake 183 

Flaubert 65, 66, 78, 79, 82, 136 

Fort 85 

Fragments du Narcisse 143 

France, Anatole 1*10, 112 

Francesca, Piero della 129 

Fratellini 121 

Freud 12, 19, 20, 25, 105, 106, 

108, 110, 113, 177 
Front Rouge 112 

Gabin 100 

Gauguin 153, 185 

Gaulle 21 

Genesis 51 

Genonceaux 31 

Gide 12, 17, 18-20, 31, 44, 89, 

105, 136, 144, 164 
Gill 48 

Giraudoux 121 
Goethe 42, 66, 78, 79 
Gourmont 33 
Gracq 182, 188 
Graham 72 
Grierson 14 
Gris 91, 92 
Guinizelli 146 


Hegel 12 

Heraclitus 12, 184 

Herodiade 63-82, 108, 143, 151, 

Hiawatha 52 
Hindemith 72 
Holderlin 62 
Honegger 121 
Hugo 29, 67, 121 
Huysmans 79, 82 

Inferno 76 

Invitation au Voyage 143, 190 

Ion 15 

Izambard 48, 49 

Jacob, Max 22, 83, 85, 142, 159, 

James, Henry 185 
Jarry 85, 104, 176 
Jeune Parque 144 
Jolie Rousse 100 
Joyce 29, 43, 52, 173, 182-184 

Kafka 36, 62 
Keats 81, 192 
Kiesler 174 
Kubla Khan 155 

Lacroix 30 

Laforgue 82 

La Rochefoucauld 37 

Laurencin 22, 85, 91 

LautrǤamont 12, 13, 22, 28-44, 46, 
47, 57, 62, 79, 99, 103, 104, 106, 
108, 110, 139, 142, 145, 159, 
167, 168, 176, 178, 179, 181, 
188, 189 

Lawrence 146, 184, 185 

Leataud 94 

Leger 22 

Leonardo da Vinci 81 

Lettre du Voyant 47 

Lettres de Guerre 23 

Lewis 78, 80, 155 

Longfellow 52 

Lorca 106 


Machine Infernale 121 

Magritte 175 

Mallarme 12, 23, 29, 35, 45, 46, 

55, 63-82, 89, 99, 101, 106, 108, 

129, 140, 143, 151, 158, 159, 

161, 170, 171, 183 
Malraux 21 

Mamelles de Tiresias 90 
Marcoussis 91, 142 
Maries de la Tour Eiffel 121 
Maritain 111 
Marx 12, 114 
Massis 111 

Masson 110, 115, 170, 174, 175 
Matisse 22, 106, 114, 160, 165 
Matta 164 
Mauriac 16, 61 
Melusine 117, 119, 172, 173, 180, 

Melville 185 
Michaux 176 
Milhaud 121 
Miller, Henry 184-187 
Millet 113 
Milton 38, 42 
Miro 113, 167 
Moliere 43 

Mon coeur mis a nu 188-190 
Monk, The 155 
Monsieur Verdoux 98 
Montaigne 37, 136, 137 
Moore, Henry 175 
Morel, Abbe" 173 
Moreau 81 
Mozart 87 

Nadja 77, 115-119, 168, 180, 181, 

Nerval 22, 62, 66, 69, 149 
Nietzsche 68, 80 
Noailles 160 
Nous sommes 153 
Nourritures Terrestres 19 
Novalis 68, 104 

Orphee 121, 125-130 


Paalen 175 

Parade 120, 121, 160, 161 

Parents Terribles 121 

Pascal 61, 136 

Pater 81 

Peguy 91 

Peret 21, 22, 103, 114, 115, 142 

Petrouchka 86, 87, 98, 100, 163 

Phares, Les 79 

Picabia 167 

Picasso 12, 22, 43, 52, 53, 77, 82, 
84-87, 98, 100, 106, 113, 116, 
121, 124, 127, 142, 147, 153, 
157-173, 174 

Pisanello 129 

Pitoeff 121, 125 

Plato 15, 49, 68 

Poe 29, 45, 70, 112, 155, 187, 188 

Pollaiuolo 180 

Poulenc 90 

Pound 149 

Poussin 161 

Praz 81 

Premiere du Monde 147, 149 

Prevert 112, 176 

Proust 16, 18, 20, 43, 52, 153, 160 

Purgatorio 188 

Pythagoras 49 

Queneau 112 

Racine 28, 38 

Radcliffe 78, 80 

Raynal 159 

Read, Herbert 14 

Renaud et Armide 121 

Reneville 49 

Reve Familier 144 

Reverdy 176 

Rigaut 179, 181 

Rimbaud 12, 18, 22, 25, 29, 31-33, 
44-62, 66, 80, 83, 88-90, 94, 97, 
99, 104, 106, 111, 112, 114, 140, 
144, 145, 150, 155, 162, 163, 
166, 169, 170, 176, 178, 179, 
181, 184, 185 

Age of Surrealism 

Riviere 61 

Romantic Agony 81 

Ronsard 145 

Rouault 163, 164 

Rousseau 21, 68 

Rousseau de donanier 22, 85, 106 

Ruy Bias 121 

Sade 12, 78-80, 112 

Saint-Just 12, 104, 105 

Saison en Enfer 47, 52, 60, 62, 

109, 166 
Salammbo 65, 78 
Sang d'un Poete 122, 129-137 
Sartre 121, 189 
Satie 121, 124, 175 
Seurat 104, 106, 175 
Shakespeare 12, 13 
Si le grain ne meurt 16 
Socrates 15 
Sophocles 35, 3*8 
Soupault 22, 104, 140 
Spinoza 186 
Spleen de Paris 142 
Stein, Gertrude 159 
Stendhal 16, 20, 88 
Strauss, Richard 82 
Stravinsky 163 
Survage 167 
Swedenborg 45, 68 

Tanguy 115, 142 

Tentation de saint Antoine 79 

Toulouse-Lautrec 161 

Traite du Style 111 

Trotsky 110 

Tzara 103, 140, 167 

Ubi Roi 104 
Uccello 129 
Ulysses 52, 182, 183 

Vache 22-24, 179, 181, 188, 189 
Valentino 130 
Valery 66, 105, 144, 164 
Van Gogh 106 


Verlaine 93, 144, 163 

Vermeer 114 

Vie Immediate 155 

Vigny 29 

Villiers de l'lsle-Adam 65, 79 

Villon 93, 163 

Vlaminck 85 

Wagner 182 


Watteau 163 

Werther 66 

Whitman 88 

Wilde 82 

Wuthering Heights 156, 181 

Zervos 168 
Zola 88 
Zone 91, 93 

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